France looks at arming Syrian rebels

Nov. 13, 2012 at 5:30 PM
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DAMASCUS, Syria, Nov. 13 (UPI) -- France became the first European country Tuesday to recognize the Syrian rebel coalition, with the French president saying he would look at arming the rebels.

President Francois Hollande told his first news conference in office France "recognizes the Syrian National Coalition as the sole representative of the Syrian people and thus as the future provisional government of a democratic Syria and to bring an end" to Bashar Assad's regime, The New York Times reported.

The Times said Hollande has been one of the most vocal critics of Assad's harsh crackdown on domestic opposition.

Hollande said France had not supported arming the rebels so far, the Times said, 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 recognize this government."

The French announcement goes beyond other Western promises of support for the new Syrian rebel group, officially created Sunday.

Though the United States and Britain welcomed the new National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, those governments have so far not recognized the group as the legitimate government. The Times said they also have resisted supplying the rebels with arms for fear they would fall into the hands of jihadists.

Syria's information minister said Tuesday there is no power in the entire world that can defeat his country or topple Assad.

Omran Zoubi said all efforts to replace Assad are futile and opposition abroad is in "a state of turmoil," CNN reported.

The new coalition would be allowed to take Syria's seat at the Arab League, which expelled Assad's representative, The New York Times reported.

Tuesday's fighting in suburban Damascus was particularly brutal with at least 30 people killed, the opposition said.

Government troops bombed a rebel-held Syrian village near Turkey for a second day prompting Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan to warn Ankara would not hesitate to respond if necessary, Turkey's Today's Zaman reported.

He spoke as a Syrian warplane struck homes in the town of Ras al-Ain, just yards from the Turkish border.

Witnesses told The New York Times the aerial assault destroyed several structures Monday and Tuesday. Ras al-Ain is an unofficial crossing point for thousands of Syrians fleeing to Turkey.

They said the force of the bombings shattered windows in businesses and houses in Ceylanpinar, Turkey, just across the border.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu protested the Ras al-Ain bombing to Syria Monday, the Anatolian News Agency reported.

In Israel, military leaders said Israeli tanks deployed in the Golan Heights, seized by Israel from Syria during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, hit a Syrian mobile artillery launcher Monday after several days of mortar fire from the Syrian side of the cease-fire line.

Military officials and analysts in Israel told the Times they think the shelling was unintentional and Israel doesn't want to be drawn into the Syria conflict, which began in March 2011.

Activist organizations estimate about 40,000 people have died and more than 400,000 refugees have fled to Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq.

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