Syrian rebel coalition names ambassador to Paris
President Francois Hollande said Saturday that France, the only Western country to officially recognise Syria's new opposition National Coalition, planned to let the group appoint an ambassador in Paris.
The promise came after talks here between Hollande and coalition leader Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib during which the Syrian repeated that his coalition would move quickly to build a broad-based government of technocrats to rival the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
More than 39,000 people have died since a popular uprising against Assad erupted 20 months ago, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
France has been one of Assad's harshest critics and on Tuesday became the first Western country to recognise the opposition coalition -- formed last weekend in Doha -- as the sole representative of the Syrian people.
The post of ambassador to Paris is to be filled by Monzir Makhous, an academic, although it was unclear if this would happen before the transitional government was formed.
After his talks with Hollande, Khatib assured the international community that the transitional government will be composed of technocrats rather than politicians, and include representatives of all Syria's ethnic and religious groups.
"There is no problem. The coalition exists and we will launch a call for candidates to form a government of technocrats that will work until the regime falls," Khatib told reporters.
But he appeared to have made little progress on his call for the West to arm the rebels, with Hollande indicating that the major powers remain cautious about such a step.
France is pushing for the rebels to be given greater support, including some arms.
"I can't hide the importance of this question," Hollande said, while acknowledging that France could not act without agreement from its partners in the European Union, which currently has a strict embargo on arms deliveries to Syria.
"The (rebel) Syrians need military means but the international community also has to exercise control," he said.
EU foreign ministers were set to discuss the arms embargo at talks in Brussels on Monday.
France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Thursday he would raise the idea of modifying the current EU embargo to exclude defensive weapons for the rebels to help them protect areas they hold from bombardment by forces loyal to Assad.
"The protection of liberated zones can only be done in the framework of the international community," Hollande said after meeting Khatib. "Once an alternative government has been formed, it can itself legitimately call for protection and support."
Hollande noted that Khatib, a Sunni imam, had assured him that the future government would include Christians and Alawites, the minority group to which Assad belongs.
France, Turkey and the Gulf states have so far granted official recognition to the new Syrian grouping, and British Foreign Secretary William Hague, who met Khatib in London on Friday, said Britain was considering following suit.
EU member states Germany, Spain, Italy and Poland have also welcomed the formation of the coalition, but stopped short of recognising it as the sole representative of the Syrian people.
The Paris meeting came as fighting continued in Syria.
At least 18 people were killed across the country on Saturday, according to a preliminary count compiled by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Syria's air force meanwhile dropped deadly explosive-filled barrels on several rebel-held areas across the country, said the Observatory, which relies on a network of activists, doctors and lawyers for its information.
Most of the army's air strikes targeted Idlib province in the northwest, Aleppo in the north and Damascus province. All three provinces are home to highly organised rebel groups.
After battles with the army that have lasted several weeks, rebels seized control of Hamdan airport in the eastern town of Albu Kamal in Deir Ezzor province on the border with Iraq, said the Observatory.
In southern Damascus, four civilians were killed when the Palestinian Yarmuk camp was shelled, it said.
In Aleppo, two rebels were killed in fighting, and regime forces launched several air strikes on towns near the embattled city, including Hreitan and Anadan, said the Observatory.
© 2012 AFP