Friday, January 19, 2018

France welcomes ambassador from Syrian opposition

PARIS — Days after recognizing the newly formed Syrian opposition council as the "sole representative" of the Syrian people, French President Francois Hollande met with its leaders in Paris on Saturday and agreed to install a new Syrian ambassador in France.

The French move comes even before the new council, the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, has established a provisional government, which is expected to happen soon.

After the meeting with the council's leader, Sheik Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib, and his deputies, Hollande said that his government would raise the issue of lifting a European Union arms embargo against all Syrian forces at a meeting of foreign ministers on Monday in Brussels.

The United States and Europe have been reluctant to provide arms to Syrian rebel forces, which have been joined by Islamist fighters from other countries.

But Hollande and his government, already providing nonlethal assistance to so-called liberated zones in Syria, have been discussing how to provide military aid, too, so the rebels can better defend their territory.

In a statement, Hollande said the arms embargo remained a delicate question.

Hollande said that al-Khatib reassured him that the coalition sought to unify the Syrian people. He said France will move quickly to try to assure the council's "legitimacy and credibility."

Al-Khatib said the new envoy to France would be Mounzir Makhous, describing him as "one of the first to speak of liberty" in Syria and an Alawite, the minority sect to which Syria's president belongs.

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