By Simon Martelli
By Simon Martelli
MARRAKESH, Morocco, Dec 12, 2012 (AFP)
Arab and Western countries opposed to President Bashar al-Assad are to recognise an opposition bloc as the sole representative of Syrians, according to a statement seen by AFP on Wednesday.
The declaration to be issued Wednesday at a “Friends of Syria” meeting in Morocco coincides with battlefield gains by jihadists fighting Assad’s forces, and a rapidly deteriorating refugee situation as winter sets in.
“The participants acknowledged the National Coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people and the umbrella organisation under which Syrian opposition groups are gathering,” said the statement to be approved at the meeting.
The Marrakesh talks on the 21-month conflict rocking Syria has brought together representatives from 130 countries, including around 60 ministers, the Syrian opposition and international organisations.
It comes just a day after US President Barack Obama endorsed the National Coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, following a similar move by the European Union this week.
Russia, the Assad regime’s most powerful ally, expressed surprise at the move, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov saying “the United States has decided to place all its bets on an armed victory of the National Coalition”.
In its communique, the Friends of Syria again called on Assad to stand down, and stressed his regime would not escape punishment for violations of international law.
“Assad has lost legitimacy and should stand aside to allow the launching of a sustainable political transition process.”
And it warned Syria’s government against using biological weapons, saying this “would draw a serious response from the international community”.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague described the growing recognition of the National Coalition as “real progress”.
“Then the important thing is to channel more assistance through them — in our case… non-lethal assistance… and then of course we need more humanitarian aid,” he said.
Participants at the Morocco meeting called for unimpeded access for humanitarian organisations working in Syria, and said they were ready “to increase the funding of the National Coalition relief activities”.
Under pressure to unite, the Syrian opposition agreed in Doha on November 11 to establish the National Coalition and group the various rebel forces under a supreme military council.
But jihadist rebels in Aleppo, a key front line in northern Syria, rejected the coalition, saying they want an Islamic state.
Among them was Al-Nusra Front, which the United States blacklisted on Tuesday as a “terrorist” organisation, citing its links to Al-Qaeda in Iraq.
With the total death toll from the civil war now topping 42,000, according to a rights monitor, the UN refugee agency said the number of Syrian refugees who had fled to neighbouring states and North Africa had now passed half a million.
In the latest violence, two bomb blasts killed one person and wounded several in Damascus and a southeastern suburb of the Syrian capital on Wednesday, the state SANA news agency reported.
Analysts say Assad’s regime has been trying to establish a secure perimeter around Damascus at all costs in a bid to be in a position to negotiate a solution to the conflict.
Despite the National Coalition’s growing recognition, some EU member states have expressed reservations about the group, in terms of how representative it is and its democratic commitment.
A coalition spokesman insisted, however, that there were “inaccuracies” around Al-Nusra.
Yaser Tabbara said the extremist group could be divided into two factions — one that supported the regime and committed acts of terror, and the other that did not — and urged dialogue with the latter.
“They’re not going to be a stumbling block in the recognition of the coalition,” he told AFP.
Tabbara also underlined hopes the Marrakesh meeting would help alleviate a mounting humanitarian crisis and support the needs of “liberated” areas, in terms of salaries and services, which the group estimates at nearly $500 million per month.
Syria’s influential Muslim Brotherhood said the US decision to blacklist Al-Nusra was “wrong and hurried” and that “Bashar al-Assad is the only terrorist in Syria”.