x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Turkey recognises legitimacy of new Syrian opposition

France and some Gulf Arab states have fully recognised the new coalition but the US, Arab League and most European countries have been more cautious.

Syrian opposition fighters celebrate on the strategic Syrian border town of Ras Al Ain after taking control of a government military post and killing at least 18 soldiers.
Syrian opposition fighters celebrate on the strategic Syrian border town of Ras Al Ain after taking control of a government military post and killing at least 18 soldiers.

Turkey recognised the legitimacy of the Syrian National Coalition yesterday and warned the regime of Bashar Al Assad that it had the will and capacity to defend its borders if violence continued to spill over. At an Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) ministerial meeting in Djibouti, Ahmet Davutoglu hailed the formation of the new opposition grouping as an "important achievement".

"Turkey ... once again reiterates its recognition of the Syrian National Coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people and calls upon all our brothers in the OIC to do so," Mr Davutoglu said.

Members of Syria's fractious opposition, including rebel fighters, veteran dissidents and ethnic and religious minorities, forged a coalition on Sunday to try to end the infighting that has hampered their struggle against Mr Al Assad.

France and some Gulf Arab states have fully recognised the Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces but the United States, Arab League and most European countries have been more cautious.

Turkey, which is housing more than 120,000 Syrian refugees, has led calls for the creation of a buffer zone to protect civilians inside Syria and has grown increasingly frustrated by the lack of international consensus. It has bolstered the military presence along its 900 kilometre border with Syria, fired back in response to mortar shells flying into its territory, and is talking to Nato about the possible deployment of Patriot surface-to-air missiles, a potential prelude to enforcing a no-fly zone.

"We do not want escalation. But everyone should be well aware that Turkey has the capacity and determination to protect its citizens and borders," Mr Davutoglu said. "Turkey's border security has been jeopardised. Our towns on the border have been targeted by the Syrian army," he said.

Gunfire from Syria also hit the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights yesterday morning, the Israeli military said, in the latest spillover of violence. "Stray bullets fired in Syria reached Israel. No soldiers were injured by the gunfire," a spokeswoman said. "The incident took place in the central Golan, near Tel HaZeka."

France yesterday raised the prospect of providing Syria's rebels with defensive weapons, but Russia said this would violate international law. In Paris, France's foreign minister Laurent Fabius raised the issue of excluding defensive weapons from the current European Union arms embargo on Syria.

"For the moment, there is an embargo, so there are no arms being delivered from the European side. The issue ... will no doubt be raised for defensive arms," he told RTL radio.

In Moscow, Russian foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said "promises are being made from a number of capitals of massive supplies of modern weapons". "Outside help to the opposition waging an armed battle against a legitimate government is a gross violation of fundamental norms of international law."

Lukashevich added that the latest developments, including what he said was rebel refusal to talk with Assad, were "in direct contravention" of the so-called Geneva peace plan championed by former UN negotiator Kofi Annan.

The Damascus region came under artillery fire and air strikes from the regime yesterday as the army launched a major operation, a watchdog said, as activists decried the critical humanitarian situation. The artillery was focused on the town of Daraya, just south-west of Damascus, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, also reporting shelling on the north-east town of Mudamiyeh Al-Sham and air raids on the nearby town of Saqba.

"More than a dozen rockets landed on Daraya. There were flares in the sky and plumes of smoke from the shelling. There is an electricity blackout and residents are rushing for cover," the Local Coordination Committees, an activist network, reported overnight.

The Syrian Revolution General Commission, a network of opposition activists on the ground, said humanitarian conditions were dire. The southern districts of the capital, where battles have raged in recent days between rebels and troops fighting for control, were also rocked by shelling yesterday, the watchdog said.

On Wednesday, shelling and clashes in the Damascus area left 21 people killed, the Britain-based Observatory said. State media has increasingly reported "terrorist infiltration" in the capital, saying that the army has thus far managed to outmanoeuvre them.