Arab League, EU welcome new Syrian opposition alliance
Arab League and European Union foreign ministers pledged on Tuesday to support the Syrian opposition and welcomed recent steps to unite the various groups under a new, united banner, in order to facilitate a solution to the 20-month conflict, dpa reported.
"The ministers welcomed the formation of the Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces. They called on all opposition groups to adhere to the national coalition and on the national coalition to engage with all sections of Syrian society," said a statement issued at the close of the meeting held in Cairo.
Syria's divided opposition had come under pressure from Western powers to join forces and offer a single interlocutor during negotiations, in order to provide a single contact for international critics of the regime's efforts to stamp down the opposition since 2011.
The coalition brings together the Syrian National Council and other groups inside Syria.
The Arab League has recognized the coalition as "the legitimate representative of the Syrian people's aspirations." Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi described it as "a glimmer of hope."
British Foreign Secretary William Hague called on the group "to demonstrate they are acting on behalf of all Syria's communities. The more progress the coalition makes towards those goals, the greater practical support it will have from the United Kingdom."
Hague expressed frustration at the deadlock on Syria in the UN Security Council, saying that "our efforts ... to encourage the UNSC to take on its responsibilities have been vetoed by Russia and China. In the absence of such progress, we will increase our support to Syrian opposition groups."
Moscow and Beijing, both allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, have vetoed three Western-and Arab-backed resolutions at the Security Council condemning the Syrian regime for violence.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said his country "is ready to join hands with the Arab League to help (the new alliance) to become a credible and inclusive alternative to al-Assad's regime."
Westerwelle and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius both met the head of the coalition, Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib.
Human Rights Watch called on the alliance to respect human rights and refrain from war crimes. Video evidence recently emerged apparently showing a mass execution of captured troops.
"Ending abuses by armed members of the opposition should be a top priority for the new coalition," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at the New York-based rights group.
Inside Syria, the air force bombed rebel positions on the border with Turkey for the second day running, despite strong protests from Ankara following the injury on Monday of three of its citizens.
Fifteen civilians were killed in shelling on the towns of Daraya and Deir Sulaiman on the outskirts of the capital Damascus, the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
In the north-eastern province of al-Raqqa, one of the few areas to remain largely free of rebel activity, the provincial governor was injured and two people killed when his convoy was hit in a car bombing, the London-based group said.
News from inside Syria cannot be independently verified in the absence of international media, largely forbidden to operate by the Syrian authorities.
On the humanitarian front, United Nations officials called for urgent help for 2.5 million refugees in and outside Syria as they prepare to endure the winter, saying many refugees arrived in camps wearing only "flip-flops" on their feet.
The UN High Commission for Refugees has so far received only 54 million of the estimated 134 million dollars needed for winter aid, Panos Moumtzis, the body's regional coordinator, told reporters during a visit to Brussels.