x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

UK backs Syria's new opposition coalition

Recognition comes with increase in aid after assurances from opposition that it has full backing and will respect human rights.

DAMASCUS // Britain formally recognised a newly formed opposition bloc as the sole representative of the Syrian people yesterday, as the chief of the United Nations said he feared Syria could become a "regional battleground".

Britain's recognition of the opposition Syrian National Coalition came as fighting continued across the country.

In announcing Britain's recognition of the National Coalition, the foreign secretary, William Hague, told parliament he took the decision after he met leaders of the bloc in London on Friday and they assured him that they have backing inside Syria and would respect human rights.

Mr Hague said he had asked the group to appoint a political representative to Britain, and he announced an increase in aid and support for the coalition as it battles the regime of the Syrian president, Bashar Al Assad.

France last week became the first western country to recognise the coalition, while the European Union on Monday said it "considers them legitimate representatives of the aspirations of the Syrian people".

But even as momentum for recognising a credible opposition to Mr Al Assad gathered steam, the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, on a visit to Cairo, cautioned that on the ground there was a potential for the conflict to spin out of control.

"We are deeply concerned about the continued militarisation of the conflict, horrendous violations of human rights and the risk of Syria turning into a regional battleground as the violence intensifies," Mr Ban said.

The Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said that his country, a Nato member and a sharp critic of Mr Al Assad's regime, would formally ask the alliance for Patriot missiles to protect its border with Syria.

In Syria, two mortars hit the ministry of information building in Damascus, leaving no casualties and causing minimal damage, state news agency Sana said.

The building is also home to the newspaper of the Baath party, which holds a monopoly on power in the country, and is located on the Mazzeh motorway in the west of the city.

According to a witness, the attacks lightly damaged a wall and the window of a car parked outside the ministry.

On the ground, rebel battalions attacked the Sheikh Suleiman air defence battalion west of Aleppo city, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The clashes came less than two days after rebels, armed with at least five tanks according to a military source, took full control of the sprawling Base 46 in the same province.

Syrian troops also besieged Daraya and rained shells on the town near the capital, killing a woman and a child, in a fresh attempt to storm it, activists said.

We have been under constant rocket and artillery fire," Abu Kinan, an activist from Daraya said.

"The clashes are some of the heaviest we have seen. The Republican Guard came to reinforce the regime army," he said.

Daraya was the site of the worst massacre in Syria's 20-month conflict, with more than 500 people killed there towards the end of August, according to monitors.

The Observatory said casualties from clashes in Ras Al Ain included four Kurdish fighters, a local Kurdish official, and 24 members of the Islamist Al Nusra Front and Gharba Al Sham rebel battalions.

Syrian rebels, meanwhile, announced the creation of a security service to "defend the Syrian revolution" in a country that has been awash with feared intelligence agencies for the past five decades.

Its objective is "to be a powerful security shield to protect the sons of the revolution from attacks, arrests and killings", and to hunt down members of the opposition who have committed abuses, according to a statement by rebels.