x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Syria opposition and backers to meet in Paris: minister

French foreign minister describes situation as 'horrific' and says president Bashar Al Assad must go as quickly as possible.

A young man makes missiles in a factory in northeastern Syria. About 100 people are killed daily in the uprising against president Bashar al Assad.
A young man makes missiles in a factory in northeastern Syria. About 100 people are killed daily in the uprising against president Bashar al Assad.

PARIS // Syrian opposition leaders will meet in Paris this month, French foreign minister Laurent Fabius said yesterday, decrying an "abominable" situation in which he said 100 people a day were being killed in an uprising against president Bashar Al Assad.

"The situation is horrific and Bashar must go as fast as possible," Mr Fabius said. He said the meeting will be on January 28.

Syria's opposition leaders met in Istanbul on Saturday to launch their second bid to form a transitional government.

Agreement among the National Coalition, a grouping formed last November, could help address international concern about the risk of Syria disintegrating along ethnic and sectarian lines if Mr Al Assad falls. Failure would highlight the divisions in the coalition, formed with western and Gulf backing in Qatar, and undermine that support.

Mr Fabius, interviewed on radio station Europe 1, said that the Paris meeting would involve the "main backers" of the opposition coalition.

France has been pressing hard for an end to a 22-month conflict in which 60,000 people have been killed, according to United Nations estimates. "This is an abominable situation, with sadly around 100 people killed a day," Mr Fabius said.

Syria's foreign minister said on Saturday any discussion of Mr Al Assad's future was "unacceptable", a week after an international envoy said the president should not be part of a transitional government.

Five members of one family were killed yesterday in air raids on a town in Damascus province, as Syrian warplanes bombarded a battleground town south-west of the capital, a watchdog organisation said. A couple and their three children were among seven civilians killed in air strikes on the village of Baraka, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, adding that the toll may rise as a number of people were buried under debris.

Other activists provided the names of the dead, including the mother and father of the Shehadeh family and three of their children.

A video posted online said to be from the site showed dead bodies in the back of a pickup a truck and body parts and blood scattered in the street. "A whole family," an off-camera voice says, adding that they had fled to the village to escape violence elsewhere.

The Britain-based watchdog also reported artillery shelling and air raids on Daraya as army reinforcements arrived in the town, strategic for its location next to Al Mazzeh military airport east of Damascus.

Rebels seeking to topple Mr Al Assad have seized swathes of territory in northern Syria but have become bogged down in their push for Damascus, where regime troops are still firmly in control. While the opposition fighters have established footholds in suburbs east and south of the capital, Assad's forces have kept them from advancing into the heart of the city and regularly hit them with artillery and air strikes.

Much of the fighting yesterday was focused in areas east and south of the city, the Britain-based Observatory said, while government jets were bombing rebel areas.

An air raid on the village of Al Barika, south-east of the capital, killed at least seven people, including five members of the same family, the Observatory said. Other activists provided the names of the dead, including the mother and father of the Shehadeh family and three of their children.

A video posted online said to be from the site showed dead bodies in the back of a pickup a truck and body parts and blood scattered in the street. "A whole family," an off-camera voice says, adding that they had fled to the village to escape violence elsewhere.

Another video posted online showed what activists said was the aftermath of an air raid on the central village of Kafr Aya.

The video showed more than 10 wounded people being treated in a rudimentary field hospital. Some the wounded were children and appeared to be unconscious. The videos appeared genuine and corresponded to other activist reports.

The state news agency said yesterday that troops had killed "scores of terrorists" in two the rebellious southern suburbs of Damascus. The government considers the rebels and its other internal opponents "terrorists" backed by foreign powers that seek to destroy Syria.

Syria's crisis began in March 2011 with protests calling for political reform that the government quickly repressed. It has since evolved into a civil war with scores of largely independent rebel groups fighting the government across the country.

 

*Reuters with additional reports from Agence France-Presse and Associated Press