New York Times
PARIS - France on Tuesday became the first European country to recognize the newly formed Syrian rebel coalition and raised the possibility of arming the group as it begins taking charge of the opposition's role in the civil war.
The French announcement, conveyed by President Francois Hollande at his first news conference in office, went beyond other Western pledges of support for the new Syrian rebel group, which was officially created on Sunday and calls itself the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces.
Though the United States and Britain have welcomed the rebel group's formation, they have nonetheless held back on whether to recognize it as the legitimate government of Syria for now and have expressed reluctance to provide it with lethal military aid in their struggle to oust President Bashar Assad. That is in part because of uncertainties over how weaponry would be used and fears it would fall into the hands of the radical jihadists in Syria who are also fighting to topple Assad.
"I announce that 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 al-Assad's regime," said Hollande, who has been one of the most vocal critics of Assad's harsh repression of the domestic opposition.
As for weapons, Hollande said, France had not supported arming the rebels up to now, 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."
His announcement came as the rebel coalition's newly chosen leader, Sheikh Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, a former imam of the historic Umayyad Mosque in Damascus and a respected figure inside Syria, made a broad appeal to Western and Arab countries for recognition and military aid.
Foreign ministers of the Arab League, while approving the new group as the "legitimate representative of the Syrian opposition," have not agreed on recognizing the group as a provisional government to replace Assad.
There are widespread expectations that the new coalition will seek to establish itself as the government in rebel-held areas of northern Syria near the Turkish border, which if successful could attract wider recognition and aid and signal a significant change in the conflict.