François Hollande vows to recognise Syria opposition government
FRENCH president François Hollande has called on Syria’s opposition to form a provisional government, saying that France would recognise it once such a government is formed.
The announcement from Mr Hollande last night, in a speech to France’s ambassadors, amounts to an attempt to increase diplomatic pressure on Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s regime amid escalating bloodshed in the country.
Syria’s opposition remains badly fragmented, and it is far from clear whether such a provisional government could be formed anytime soon.
But Mr Hollande’s statement – the first of its kind from the international community – appeared to be aimed at giving an impetus to the creation of such a government.
Speaking to diplomats and dignitaries at the presidential palace, Mr Hollande said: “France asks the Syrian opposition to form a provisional government – inclusive and representative – that can become the legitimate representative of the new Syria.
“France will recognise the provisional government of Syria once it is formed.”
Mr Hollande also took issue with Russian and Chinese reticence about agreeing tougher language against Mr Assad’s regime, saying: “Their attitude weakens our ability to carry out the mandate conferred on us by the UN charter.”
Syria’s opposition has been plagued by divisions and infighting since the start of the uprising last year, and the formation of a transitional government is fraught with difficulties.
Abdelbaset Sieda, leader of the main umbrella opposition group, the Syrian National Council, said recently the group was making plans and consultations for a transitional government. However, several other opposition groups are known to be making similar plans, including a new opposition alliance headed by veteran opposition figure Haitham Maleh.
The French move came as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon commented for the first time about weekend reports of a massacre in a town close to Damascus, condemning it as “an appalling and brutal crime” that should be independently investigated immediately.
Syrian opposition activists accused Mr Assad’s army on Sunday of massacring hundreds of people in the town of Daraya, which government forces recaptured from rebels.
Some 320 bodies, including women and children, were found in houses and basements in Daraya, according to activists. They said most had been killed “execution-style” by troops in house-to-house raids.
However, Syria’s official state news agency blamed the rebels. It said: “Our heroic armed forces cleansed Daraya from remnants of armed terrorist groups who committed crimes against the sons of the town.”
The United Nations estimates that more than 18,000 people have been killed in the 17-month conflict. It began as peaceful pro-democracy protests and has grown into a civil war, pitting a mainly Sunni Muslim opposition against the ruling Assad family, who are members of the Alawite faith, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
Meanwhile, a Syrian military helicopter went down in a ball of fire yesterday after it was apparently hit during fighting between government forces and rebels in Damascus, activists said.
A video posted on the internet showed the helicopter engulfed in flames and spinning out of control shortly before it hit the ground amid bursts of gunfire near a mosque.
Rebels are heard shouting “Allahu Akbar!” – “God is great” – as the helicopter goes down. The authenticity of the video could not be independently verified.
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