Friday, May 25, 2018

European Union backs Syrian opposition coalition

ISTANBUL, Turkey — The European Union offered crucial support for the new Syrian political opposition Monday, calling the group legitimate representatives for the Syrian people in a move that burnished the new coalition's credibility as it seeks more international aid to help in the fight against the government of President Bashar Assad.

The union stopped short of conferring full diplomatic recognition, as France, Turkey and several Arab countries have done, and instead urged the coalition to develop a plan to create a "credible alternative to the current regime."

The new group, the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, said Monday that it would be based in Cairo, the Egyptian state news agency reported. Formed after days of negotiations in Doha, Qatar, the coalition replaces an earlier one that was regarded as ineffectual, in part because it included few figures from within Syria and had little credibility with front-line fighters.

As the new group continues to gain international recognition, it hopes to secure agreements from Western and Arab countries to supply heavier weapons to the rebels to hasten the demise of Assad's government.

Meanwhile, within Syria, the coalition's legitimacy is being tested by some of the fighting groups, whose links to outside political leaders have been tenuous in the past. Several extremist Islamist groups fighting in Syria have said they reject the new Syrian opposition coalition.

The Islamist groups are involved in fighting government forces in Aleppo, Syria's largest city, and include units aligned with al-Qaida. They made their declaration in a video uploaded to the Internet on Sunday, saying their goal was to establish an "Islamic state" in Syria and that they would reject any plans for the country imposed from abroad.

The video was quickly rejected by commanders of the Free Syrian Army, the umbrella group for loosely knit bands of opposition fighters across Syria, and some residents of Aleppo mocked the video in postings on Facebook.

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