‘Friends of Syria’ group recognizes opposition coalition


The leader of Syria's opposition coalition called on the country's Alawite minority on Wednesday to launch a campaign of civil disobedience against President Bashar al-Assad, an Alawite who faces a mainly Sunni Muslim uprising against his rule.

Mouaz AlKhatib called on Hezbollah in the Morocco meeting to withdraw fighters from Syria, adding that the opposition would hold world powers, particularly Russia, responsible if Assad uses chemical weapons against rebel fighters, and urged Iran to withdraw personnel he said were supporting Assad in the 20-month-old Syrian conflict.

“War crimes in Syria should be referred to the International Criminal Court,” he added.

The Friends of Syria countries opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime are to say at a meeting in Morocco that the newly formed opposition coalition is the “legitimate representative” of the Syrian people, a statement shows.

“The participants acknowledged the national coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people and the umbrella organization under which Syrian opposition groups are gathering,” said the statement, which is due to be endorsed at the meeting.

Major powers are set to give Syria's opposition full political recognition on Wednesday but not the weapons that opposition fighters need to counter Assad's superior firepower as they gain ground across the country.

The "Friends of Syria," a loose forum of governments opposed to Assad, are meeting in the Moroccan city of Marrakech as the opposition intensify their push on Damascus and signs grow that the 20-month uprising may be nearing a tipping point.

President Barack Obama granted U.S. recognition on Tuesday to a Syrian opposition coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, a move aimed at ratcheting up pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to leave power.

Obama announced his decision in an interview with ABC News on the eve of a meeting of Syrian opposition leaders and their international allies in Morocco, but he stopped short of authorizing U.S. arming of the opposition fighting to overthrow Assad.

"It's a big step," Obama said in a step that could provide a diplomatic boost to the anti-Assad political cause after nearly two years of fighting.

Russia expressed surprise on Wednesday over U.S. recognition of a Syrian opposition coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people and said it contradicted efforts to seek political transition in the Middle Eastern nation.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Washington’s recognition of the Syrian National Coalition suggested the United States has “placed all bets on the armed victory” of the coalition over the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

“I was somewhat surprised to find out” about the recognition announcement, Lavrov said, quoted by Russian news agencies. “The United States has decided to place all its bets on an armed victory of the (Syrian) National Coalition.”

As Washington cranked up pressure on beleaguered President Bashar al-Assad, the Obama administration also blacklisted the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front, which officials here fear seeks to hijack the revolution, as a terrorist group.

It was another day of unrest inside Syria, as at least one person was killed and several people were wounded by two bomb blasts in the Syrian capital and a southeastern suburb of the city on Wednesday, the SANA state news agency said.

"Terrorists blew up two bombs laden with explosives behind the Palace of Justice in the (central) Qanawat district of Damascus," said the agency, adding that one person was wounded there.

In the majority Christian and Druze district of Jaramana, southeast of the capital, "one person was killed and five others were injured by two bombs laid by terrorists," SANA added, using regime terminology for the rebels.

Meanwhile, Syria regime forces bombarded Kafr Batna in the Damascus suburbs with fire bombs, the Syria Media Center reported.

The United States has edged slowly towards recognizing the opposition Syrian National Coalition, and its move follows similar action by France, Britain, Turkey and the Gulf Cooperation Council regional grouping.

The process was slowed by concerns that the coalition, recently reconstituted under U.S. pressure, did not represent all of Syrian society, had links to extremists, and did not fully subscribe to democratic principles.

“We have made a decision that the Syrian opposition coalition is now inclusive enough, is reflective and representative enough of the Syrian population, that we consider them the legitimate representative of the Syrian people,” Obama told ABC News in an interview.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had been expected to make the announcement at a Friends of the Syrian People meeting in Marrakesh, Morocco, Wednesday but could not travel owing to illness.

Washington has so far only provided humanitarian, non-lethal aid to the opposition, officially declining to send arms, a position White House spokesman Carney reiterated on Tuesday.