x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

'Friends' owe Syria more than words

International recognition of the Syrian National Coalition has been a long time coming, but it will only be meaningful if it is followed by action.

The "Friends of Syria", or rather the friends of the Syrian opposition, yesterday jointly recognised the National Coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. That recognition, after nearly two years of bloodshed, has been a long time coming, but it will only be meaningful if it is followed by action.

Admittedly, this recognition is the boldest resolution taken by the international community opposed to the Assad regime. The National Coalition should be strengthened in its calls for tangible support - and, to be sure, the opposition is asking for military aid, as well as financial and diplomatic support.

The rebel fighters inside Syria have made impressive gains, mostly on their own, in the past month against the regime. Those advances will be extremely difficult for the regime to roll back given its limited resources and an overstretched military. The Assad regime is effectively cornered in Damascus, and has reportedly pulled elite forces from the provinces to defend the capital. In the past month, manoeuvres by rebel forces have seemed to indicate a renewed battle for Damascus is being planned.

The US recognition of the National Coalition on Tuesday was considered overdue by many Syrian opposition figures; Washington, after all, had vocally supported the formation of the council in the first place. The perception, for some, is that the international community is playing catch up as the situation is changing on the ground.

To change that perception, the "Friends of Syria" have to follow their words with concrete actions. The best immediate way to convince the Syrian people of the international community's good will would be a massive influx of aid. Rebels control much of the territory - de facto "safe corridors" already exist that could channel badly needed humanitarian supplies to Syrians in need. The young National Coalition needs financial support as well.

In the statement of support, the "Friends of Syria" recognised the "legitimate need for the Syrian people to defend themselves" against the regime. How that will translate into tangible support remains to be seen.

Perception is key for a post-Assad Syria, which is an almost certain outcome. Rebels must believe that the international community has helped in the difficult times, if those friends are to have influence in the future.