France first European country to recognise new Syrian opposition

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 November, 2012, 2:57am

France has become the first European country to recognise the newly formed Syrian rebel coalition, and raised the possibility of arming the group as it begins taking charge of the opposition's role in the civil war.

The French announcement, conveyed on Tuesday by President Francois Hollande at his first news conference in office, went beyond other Western pledges of support for the Syrian rebel group, which was officially created on Sunday as the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces.

Though the United States and Britain have welcomed the rebel group's formation, they have held back on whether to recognise it as the legitimate government of Syria for now, and have expressed reluctance to provide it with lethal military aid in their struggle to oust President Bashar al-Assad. This is in part because of uncertainties over how weaponry would be used and fears it would fall into the hands of the radical jihadists in Syria who are also fighting to topple Assad.

As for weapons, Hollande said, France had not supported arming the rebels up to now, but "with the coalition, as soon as it is a legitimate government of Syria, this question will be looked at by France, but also by all countries that recognise this government".

His announcement came as the rebel coalition's newly chosen leader, Sheikh Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, made a broad appeal for recognition and military aid.