Dozens of countries recognise Syrian opposition coalition

Bashar Assad

More than 100 countries have recognised a new Syrian opposition coalition, opening the way for greater humanitarian assistance - and possibly military aid - for the forces battling president Bashar Assad.

Following international pressure to create a more organised body to channel any aid extended by foreign countries, the opposition formed the Syrian National Coalition in Doha, Qatar, in November.

The coalition was widely applauded today at a conference in Morocco.

The world's recognition of the Libyan opposition gave it a huge boost in the battle against Muammar Gaddafi last year, though that was later backed by Western airstrikes.

However, military intervention does not appear to be on the cards for Syria, where the government has the backing of Russia, China and Iran.

French foreign minister Laurent Fabius called the Friends of the Syrian People conference meeting in Marrakech, Morocco, "extraordinary progress".

He noted that the European Union is now renewing its weapons embargo on Syria every three months, rather than annually, to be more flexible as the situation on the ground changes.

He said: "We want to have the ability to continue or to change our attitude on this point. The fact that the coalition, which is asking for the right to defend itself, is now being recognised by a hundred countries - yesterday the US and first France - I think this is a very important point."

The conference's final statement said Mr Assad, Syria's president, has lost all legitimacy but stopped short of calling for him to step down, although this was something attending ministers did say individually.

The statement also warned that any use of chemical weapons "would draw a serious response" from the international community.

The Syrian military's recent movement of chemical weapons prompted the United States to warn Assad that he would be "held accountable" if his forces used them against the rebels.

In Marrakech, conference members announced new humanitarian assistance for Syrians, including $100m (€77m) from Saudi Arabia and a fund to be managed by Germany and the United Arab Emirates for the reconstruction of the country after Mr Assad falls.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was expected to attend the conference, but cancelled following an illness.

She was represented by William Burns, the deputy secretary of state for the Middle East.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the recognition of the Syrian opposition coalition contradicts earlier international agreements aimed at starting a Syria dialogue that would include all sides in the conflict.

Syria's state TV later said that an explosion has targeted the Interior Ministry building in the capital Damascus.

There was no immediate word on casualties or damage from the blast.

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