West pledges its support to Syrian opposition
MARRAKECH — International supporters of Syria’s opposition gave full political recognition on Wednesday to the newly formed Syrian National Coalition, in an attempt to intensify diplomatic pressure on the embattled regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Meeting in the Moroccan city of Marrakech as rebels battled Mr Assad’s troops on the outskirts of his Damascus power base, the "Friends of Syria" group called on Mr Assad to relinquish power and warned him against using chemical weapons.
Hours earlier, US President Barack Obama announced that Washington would recognise the newly formed opposition coalition as Syria’s legitimate representative, joining France, Britain, Germany, Turkey and Gulf states.
But the US tempered its recognition of the coalition by designating one of its members, the militant Islamist Jabhat al-Nusra, a terrorist group.
France said more than 100 countries now recognised the opposition and Belgium invited it to open a representation office in Brussels, Belga news agency reported, citing Foreign Affairs Minister Didier Reynders.
Among the pledges of additional support made at the meeting, Saudi Arabia promised $100m, the US pledged a further $14m in medical aid and Germany offered €22m.
Qatar urged Mr Assad on Wednesday to accept that rebels would eventually defeat him.
"What happened is enough, you should take the brave decision to stop this bloodshed, this destruction and withdraw and allow the Syrian people to form a government and state that they believe is appropriate," said Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, Qatar’s prime minister and foreign minister. "The result is clear, but how much more blood would the Syrians have to pay to achieve their goal?"
Coalition leader Mouaz Alkhatib said at the Marrakech meeting that the US should reconsider its policy on Jabhat al-Nusra, and said religion was a legitimate motive for the Syrian rebels.
He also called on Syria’s Alawite minority on Wednesday to launch a campaign of civil disobedience against Mr Assad, who is an Alawite facing a mainly Sunni Muslim uprising.
Many Alawites, who have remained mostly loyal to Mr Assad throughout the 20-month-old uprising, fear the rebels will exact brutal revenge on their community if they seize power.
But Mr Alkhatib, a Sunni Muslim former preacher at the Umayyad mosque in Damascus, said the opposition coalition was committed to a pluralistic future "based on justice, equality and respect for human rights and preserving (Syria’s) unique social fabric".
Fighting is moving closer to Mr Assad’s residence in the centre of Damascus, and early on Wednesday government forces fired artillery and rockets at southwestern suburbs of the capital, adjacent to the Mezzeh military airport, activists said.
Syrian state news agency Sana said on Wednesday that "terrorists" detonated two bombs in the Damascus district of Jaramana, killing one person and wounding five, and another two bombs behind the justice ministry in Damascus, wounding one person.
In central Syria, an attack on a village killed or injured as many as 200 members of Mr Assad’s Alawite minority sect, activists said, but it was unclear who was behind the assault.