Syrian opposition urged to unite

Friday 17 February 2012 19.33
A Syrian living in Jordan waves his national flag as he takes part in a demonstration in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad outside the Syrian embassy in Amman
A Syrian living in Jordan waves his national flag as he takes part in a demonstration in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad outside the Syrian embassy in Amman

Arab countries will encourage the Syrian opposition to unite before they formally recognise them as a government-in-waiting, the foreign minister of Tunisia, which is hosting a meeting on Syria next week, has said.

A year into the revolt against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian National Council (SNC) has emerged as the international voice of the uprising but has yet to show a real command over grassroots activists and an armed insurgency.

Doubts over the SNC's authority inside Syria have been brought into focus by a 24 February meeting in Tunisia of the "Friends of Syria", organised by the Arab League to try to build international momentum against Assad.

The SNC hopes that recognition from Arab countries would crown it as the opposition government-in-waiting, just as foreign recognition of Libya's National Transitional Council last year helped rebels who eventually ousted Muammar Gaddafi.

But the SNC controls no territory in Syria and not all Arab countries are convinced that it represents the full spectrum of Syria's opposition.

Asked if there was a move towards SNC recognition, Tunisian Foreign Minister Rafik Abdesslem said: "There is a move towards supporting dialogue among the different Syrian factions so that it is the effective representative of the Syrian revolution and representative of all parts of the Syrian people.

"If this representation happens and this level of Syrian national consensus is reached then we would have no objection to recognising the SNC ... I don't think this position is specific to Tunisia, but one that includes Arab countries and many countries," he told a news conference.

Renewed bombardment of Homs

Meanwhile, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces, disregarding United Nations condemnation of their violent suppression of a nationwide revolt, have renewed a bombardment of the opposition stronghold of Homs and attacks on rebels in Deraa.

Demonstrations against President Assad were reported by activists in several cities across Syria, including the capital Damascus and the commercial hub Aleppo, after Friday Muslim prayers despite the threat of violence from security forces.

China's vice foreign minister, Zhai Jun, arrived in Damascus in a show of support for Mr Assad after the UN General Assembly passed a resolution telling the increasingly isolated president to halt the crackdown and surrender power.

China, along with Russia, had voted against the motion and says Syria must be allowed to resolve its problems without being dictated terms by foreign powers.

Its stance on Syria will "withstand the test of history", Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said in Beijing.

Mr Zhai said before leaving for Damascus: "China does not approve of the use of force to interfere in Syria or the forceful pushing of a so-called regime change."

Even as Mr Zhai landed in Damascus, government forces pummelled opposition-held areas of the strategic western city of Homs, now under fire for two weeks.

An intense bombardment hit the mainly Sunni Muslim area of Baba Amro after Alawite-led troops, backed by armour, advanced from neighbouring Inshaat, opposition activists there said.

In Deraa, a city on the Jordanian border where the revolt erupted nearly a year ago, explosions and machinegun fire echoed through districts under attack by troops, residents said.

The military has also opened a new offensive in Hama, a city with a bloody history of resistance to President Assad's late father.