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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 16 November 2018

Syrian opposition offices get US diplomatic recognition

US administration announces move ahead of first official visit to Washington by head of the Syrian National Coalition.
Men try to put out fire at a site hit by what activists said was an air strike by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar Al Assad in the town of Azaz, north of Aleppo, near the border with Turkey, on May 5, 2014. Mahmoud Hassano / Reuters
Men try to put out fire at a site hit by what activists said was an air strike by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar Al Assad in the town of Azaz, north of Aleppo, near the border with Turkey, on May 5, 2014. Mahmoud Hassano / Reuters

WASHINGTON // The Syrian opposition’s offices in the United States are to be recognised as diplomatic missions, US officials said yesterday.

The move, announced ahead of the first official visit by the head of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), Ahmad Jarba, aims “to empower the Syrian moderate opposition”, a senior US administration figure said.

“This is an important step in the path toward a new Syria, its recognition on the international stage, and its relations with Syrian nationals in the US,” Mr Jarba said, as his delegation began arriving in Washington.

He welcomed the move as “a diplomatic blow against” the legitimacy of President Bashar Al Assad “and demonstrates how far the opposition has progressed.”

The US along with many European allies recognised the Syrian coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people in late 2012.

Washington last month shuttered the Syrian embassy in the US capital, prompting an angry response from Damascus.

Mr Jarba will be accompanied on his eight-day trip to the US by the new chief of staff of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), Brig Genl Abdelilah Al Bashir, his office said last week.

“He will meet US officials to discuss the supply of sophisticated weapons to the FSA to enable it to change the balance on the ground,” his office said

The US, which is the largest single donor of humanitarian aid to Syrian people caught in the three-year conflict, is boosting its non-lethal support and speeding up military deliveries to what it sees as moderate rebels, those fighting both regime forces and the militant groups.

US officials refused to be drawn on the type of non-lethal aid or weapons being supplied by Washington. But the senior official acknowledged that there was “an asymmetry militarily” between the rebels and the Assad regime they are fighting to overthrow.

The move to recognise the Syrian opposition coalition’s offices, which will not give the staff diplomatic immunity, comes after a peace process known as Geneva II collapsed in February amid bitter recriminations. The move will “facilitate” the work of the Syrian opposition in “reaching out to the American people” and is something that the coalition had been calling for, the US official said.

A further US$27 million (Dh99m) in non-lethal support is being unveiled, taking the total in such aid to $287 million, which in the past has included such things as communications equipment, night-goggles, medical supplies and ready-to-eat meals.

Rebels recently disclosed the existence of a pilot programme under which a “western source” supplied them with 20 US-made TOW anti-tank missiles.

In Syria meanwhile, fierce fighting in Aleppo province killed at least 21 rebels yesterday as rockets slammed into a government-held district in the provincial capital, killing nine people.

And a deal between the government and rebels for opposition fighters to leave the Old City of Homs will be implemented in the next 48 hours, the Homs provincial governor said yesterday.

* Agence France-Presse