Official recognition for Syrian rebels as they attack capital


Western and Arab nations sympathetic to Syria’s uprising against President Bashar al-Assad gave full political recognition yesterday to the opposition, reflecting a hardening consensus that the 20-month-old uprising might be nearing a tipping point.

Meeting in the Moroccan city of Marrakech as rebels battled President Assad’s troops on the outskirts of his Damascus power base the “Friends of Syria” group called on him to step aside.

But tensions between the US and the Syrian opposition surfaced at the meeting, when its leader criticised Washington’s designation of the Islamist Jabhat al-Nusra rebel brigade as a terrorist organisation.

Hours earlier, US president Barack Obama announced he would recognise the coalition of opposition groups, led by Sunni Muslim cleric Mouaz Alkhatib, as Syria’s legitimate representative, joining France, Britain, Turkey and Gulf states.

“Participants acknowledge the national coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people and the umbrella organisation under which the Syrian opposition are gathering,” said the Marrakech declaration after a meeting attended by 130 ministers and officials.

The gathering brought together Western and Arab nations opposed to President Assad, whose family has ruled Syria for 42 years. It excluded Russia, China and Iran, which have backed him or blocked efforts to tighten international pressure on him.

“Bashar al-Assad has lost legitimacy and should stand aside to allow a sustainable political transition,” said the text.

Referring to Western reports suggesting President Assad might use chemical and biological weapons, the text said “any use of chemical weapons in Syria would be abhorrent and that this would draw a serious response from the international community”.

Participants announced the creation of a relief fund “to support the Syrian people”, calling on states and organisations to make contributions to the fund.

Fighting is moving closer to the Assad residence in central Damascus. Early yesterday government forces fired artillery and rockets at southwestern suburbs of the capital adjacent to the Mezzeh military airport, activists said. State television reported an explosion at the gate of the interior ministry. In central Syria, an attack on a village killed or injured 200 members of the Alawite minority sect.