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EU may decide to endorse Syrian opposition

BRUSSELS: The newly formed coalition of some Syrian opposition groups is likely to get significant new international support, as the European Union appears ready to call it a legitimate representative of the aspirations of the Syrian people, a EU official said yesterday.
The move, if it comes, would not amount to official diplomatic recognition, as that is within the purview of the EU’s member countries, not the union as a whole. But if, as seems likely, the EU calls the new coalition of opposition groups fighting against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad a legitimate interlocutor, that would represent a major boost for a group still struggling to establish its legitimacy and coherence.
Foreign ministers from the EU’s 27 countries, meeting in Brussels, are expected to take such a step, an insider with knowledge of the talks said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss closed-door talks that were still on-going.
So far, among Western nations, only France has extended diplomatic recognition to the coalition of disparate opposition groups in Syria. The UK has indicated it will consider the issue later this week.
“I hope this meeting here today will give a boost to that opposition, to the coalition, and will appreciate that they have made a big step forward,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague said on his way into the meeting in Brussels. “I will speak about the question of recognition when I talk to the House of Commons later this week.” Italy said yesterday it is giving the group political but not diplomatic recognition.
The international support comes at a difficult time for the new coalition, and at a time when events and alliances within Syria are fast-moving and fluid. Late Sunday, a group of extremist Islamist factions in Syria rejected the new opposition coalition, saying in a video statement they have formed an “Islamic state” in the embattled city of Aleppo to underline that they want nothing to do with the Western-backed bloc.
Some EU members have suggested arming the Syrian opposition, but officials said the idea is likely to get little traction in the meeting. A senior EU official said last week that shipping weapons to Syrian weapons while keeping an embargo against the Assad regime in place would be very difficult to enforce.
The newly formed Syrian opposition bloc that has received Arab and international backing is to be based in Egypt, its head Ahmed Moaz Al-Khatib told the official MENA news agency on Monday.
“It has been decided that the Syrian National Coalition will have its headquarters in Egypt,” Khatib was quoted as saying after talks with Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr.
Amr said Egypt was willing to “offer any assistance to the coalition in the coming phase.”
On the ground, fighting flared along the Turkish border after rebels took control of a large army base in the northern province of Aleppo that had been besieged for weeks.
Six rebels killed in clashes with Kurdish fighters and the head of the local Kurdish People’s Assembly was shot dead in the town of Ras Al-Ain, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported. The clashes erupted after a Kurdish demonstration demanding that all rebels not from the town leave. The insurgents refused and attacked Kurdish militiamen at a checkpoint, with nine wounded on both sides, the Observatory said.
The Kurdish fighters belonged to the People’s Defense Units, the armed wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is linked to Turkey’s rebel Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
A Ras Al-Ain activist said tension has been high between rebels and the PYD since the insurgents took the town last week.
“The rebels burned a flag of the (Kurdish) Democratic Union Party and the Kurds reacted by burning the FSA flag,” Havidar said.
Rebels accuse Kurdish groups of negotiating directly with Assad’s regime, while Kurds question why the rebels entered a safe area.
“The Kurdish regions provide safe havens to thousands of refugees from Damascus, Hama and Homs,” PYD leader Saleh Muslim said by phone.
“We are not looking for a confrontation with the FSA, but its members who provoked the incident today in Ras Al-Ain receive their orders from Turkey,” he said.
Fighting also erupted at a border post near the town of Kasab in Latakia province, the Observatory said.
In the mountainous region of Jabal Al-Turkman, eight rebels and four soldiers were killed after insurgents attacked an army convoy en route to Kasab. Kasab residents told AFP the violence had not spilled over into the town.

The Observatory, which relies on a network of activists and medics, puts the death toll in more than 20 months of conflict at upwards of 39,000.

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