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January 28, 2013

France Urges International Support for Syrian Opposition

by Lisa Bryant

France urged Western and Arab nations meeting in Paris on Monday to make good on pledges to support Syria's opposition, warning that failure to do so would play into the hands of Islamist extremists. Talks also included senior members of the Syrian National Coalition.

After pledging millions of dollars in aid and other assistance to the opposition Syrian National Coalition, France says the international community must now deliver.  French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius issued that blunt message as he opened a meeting of the two groups in Paris.

Fabius said representatives of the 50 countries meeting in the French capital have the responsibility to strongly support the opposition coalition. Otherwise, he warned, they risk extremist fighters in Syria gaining ground. He said the international community cannot allow a peaceful uprising to degenerate into a clash among militia groups.

Since its formation in November, the Syrian opposition coalition has gained the backing of more than 100 countries. But not all have followed up on assistance pledged at a meeting in Marrakesh last month.

Besides representing the Syrian people, the coalition, Fabius said, is also critical to delivering humanitarian aid.

Concerns about the growing clout of Islamists in Syria were underscored Monday when an al-Qaida-linked group, Jabhat al-Nusra, took responsibility for a suicide bombing committed the week before.  But foreign governments have been slow to assist the moderate Syrian coalition because it is perceived to lack cohesion.

But coalition Vice President Riad Seif says time is short. He says funding is needed to set up an interim government and to protect so-called "liberated zones" held by the rebels.

Syria's 22-month uprising has killed more than 60,000 people and uprooted millions of others. Still others have disappeared, and many Syrians urgently need humanitarian assistance.

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters that Russia - once perceived as a staunch ally of the Syrian regime -  does not support the Assad government or any other party in the conflict.

His comments came a day after Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Assad made a potentially "fatal" error by delaying democratic reforms demanded by Syria's opposition.