News / Middle East

    'Friends of Syria' Recognize Syrian Opposition; Scuds Fired

    Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, left, chats with Qatar's Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheik Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani at a meeting of the Friends of the Syrian People in Marrakech, Morocco, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012.
    Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, left, chats with Qatar's Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheik Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani at a meeting of the Friends of the Syrian People in Marrakech, Morocco, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012.
    A group of more than 100 nations calling for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down has formally recognized a newly formed Syrian opposition coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.
     
    In another development, a senior U.S. official says the Syrian government recently fired Scud missiles at insurgents.  There was no indication the missiles carried chemical weapons.  
     
    The use of Scud missiles could be seen as an escalation of the nearly two-year conflict in Syria, and it comes as more international favor has shifted toward the rebels. 
     
    "We want to accelerate the political transition in Syria to stop the bloodshed in this country," said Moroccan Foreign Minister Saadeddine el Othmani, host of the "Friends of Syria" conference in Marrakech that endorsed the opposition Syrian National Coalition. 

    Regional Food Security at a Glance

    • Prices are up in Southern Africa on disappointing harvests.

    • Markets in West Africa were mostly stable but high, and large numbers of people remain displaced by conflict.

    • East Africa saw seasonal declines with the new harvest.

    • In the Great Lakes, conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo means more than 6 million people need food assistance, 2 million more than last year.   

    • In the Middle East, food security concerns are increasing in Syria due to the civil conflict, Yemen remains a trouble spot.

    • Wheat prices are up in the countries of the former Soviet Union on poor harvests.

    • Prices are up in Haiti due to damage from tropical storms.
    The conference was aimed at agreeing on a strategy for a political transition if President Bashar al-Assad's government falls.  Delegates also discussed how the conflict is affecting regional security, as well as efforts to provide humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees.
     
    The director of the Brookings Doha Center, Salman Shaikh, said the new coalition's leadership is "satisfied" with the outcome of the meeting.
     
    "It's safe to say this is the most significant Friends [of Syria] meeting there's been. In fact, it's probably the first significant Friends [of Syria] meeting there has been," he said.
     
    Shaikh said various countries involved pledged $143 million in aid for the Syrian opposition, including a $100 million aid package from Saudi Arabia.
     
    US endorsement
     
    U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns said in Marrakech that the sooner the Syrian president "steps aside, the better for all Syrians."
     
    The United States recognized the opposition coalition Tuesday, hours after it labeled a Syrian jihadist force fighting alongside the rebels as a terrorist organization.  The State Department said the Islamist Jabhat al-Nusrah is serving as an alias of al-Qaida in Iraq as it attempts to infiltrate the Syrian conflict. 
     
    By Wednesday, the leader of the opposition coalition urged the United States to review its decision to label Jabhat al-Nusrah a terrorist group.
     
    "We might disagree with some parties and their ideas and their political and ideological vision, but we affirm that all the guns of the rebels are aimed at overthrowing the tyrannical criminal regime,'' opposition leader Mouaz al-Khatib said. 

    • A Free Syrian Army fighter aims his weapon during heavy clashes with government forces in Aleppo, Syria, December 11, 2012.
    • Syrian residents carry their belongings after their homes were damaged due to fighting between Free Syrian Army fighters and government forces in Aleppo, Syria, December 11, 2012.
    • A woman and girl carry their belongings after their home was damaged in fighting between Free Syrian Army fighters and government forces in Aleppo, Syria, December 11, 2012.
    • Free Syrian Army fighters warm themselves by a fire in Aleppo's al-Amereya district, December 11, 2012.
    • Free Syrian Army fighters look for government forces during heavy clashes in Aleppo, Syria, December 11, 2012.
    • This image taken from video obtained from the Shaam News Network shows what was said to be heavy shelling by warplanes near Damascus, Syria, December 10, 2012.
    • People shop at a market near buildings damaged in heavy fighting between Free Syrian Army fighters and government forces in Aleppo, Syria, December 9, 2012.
    • People wait in line to buy bread at a bakery in Aleppo, Syria, December 9, 2012.
    • Men use a fire to boil water near their tent at a refugee camp near the Turkish border, in Azaz, Syria, December 9, 2012.
    • General view of a refugee camp near the Turkish border, in Azaz, Syria, December 9, 2012.

    The U.S. formal recognition of the opposition, made by President Barack Obama in a television interview, stops short of any U.S. commitment to arm the rebels, a move that Shaikh says still significantly aids rebels fighting for democracy on the ground.
     
    "A role by the United States, bringing with it the assets, both the intelligence, as well as the sort of training and assistance aspect which they can bring, is actually quite useful," he said. "The simple fact of the matter is if Assad was to fall tomorrow, we have really no guarantee that we have forces on the ground that can ensure the safety and security that is required for a political process and a political transition process to take root."
     
    Russian disapproval
     
    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the U.S. recognition of the opposition coalition goes against efforts to establish a political transition in Syria. 
     
    "As the coalition has been recognized as the only legitimate representative, it seems that the United States decided to place all bets on the armed victory of this very national coalition," Lavrov said.
     
    Moscow opposes Western demands to impose regime change on the Syrian president, a longtime Russian ally.

    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Korea, Japan and Egypt.

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    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Justice
    December 12, 2012 9:02 PM
    Sorry but those who behead the innocent are no friends of mine!! They classed one group as terrorists. There is far more than one. What was another peaceful nation where Christians and Muslims could live peacefully together, is destroyed in the guise of "helping" the people..those countries are now ruled by true tyrannical and criminal regimes...

    by: WILLIAM from: Argentina
    December 12, 2012 8:33 PM
    The fall of the vesanic regime of assad in Siria, and the asumption in the power, to the current rebel leidershipness is a concrete fact, the question When ? its just a matter of time, but the priority key is the post assad age. The US and Europe partners, must to agree in the most short place of time, on the reconstruction of Siria, comercial investments, the sirian jobs, the provision of public services, market deploy, and the help as important to the return of refugees, the call for a new government and constitution, or the reduce of poverty, and medical private services to population , every efffort, considerable to the new country it should to be consider priority to the future of Syrian country and its people. William.
    In Response

    by: Marls from: Australia
    December 13, 2012 6:09 AM
    @William. "vesanic regime", yet we are watching on facebook beheadings of handcuffed men by children following the command of FSA terrorists. "US & Europe partners, must to agree". Have you ever heard the word: "Self-determination". To what extent would you like your neighbour coming into your house and decide how things should be run there? Syria kicked their colonial master in 1946. Would you approve of US and Europe deciding matters on Argentina? I know many Argentinians & am yet to find someone who has such narrow mind set.
    In Response

    by: Pegasus from: Australia
    December 13, 2012 2:20 AM
    Agreed William, the main challenges to be faced with a new regime is who will lead the government; and scenes such as those seen recently in Egypt where president Morsi was seen as a "dictator replacing a dictator" will greatly effect the situation as well as the motivations of foreign freedom fighters in Syria about the workings and beliefs of the future government which where seen in major conflicts throughout the Arab Spring. (eg: Al queda in Yemen)

    by: jethromayham from: vietnam
    December 12, 2012 6:04 PM
    Russia is left out in the cold again. LMAO

    by: Sunny Enwerem
    December 12, 2012 5:16 PM
    Russia should be listened to because I feel they do have a point BUT Assad needs to go at this point and let his Sunni deputy take charge to talks.

    by: musawi melake from: -
    December 12, 2012 4:12 PM
    "Legitimate govt. of the Syrian people"? legitimate through what, the use of bullets or ballots?. "Friends of Syria"!, does this mean the other recogonized and urecogonized Nations and States are enemies of the Syrian people? This is nothing but oldwine in a new bottle!, i.e. the same old colonial tactis used in the past centuries for plunder of the world by the Europeans. Those idiotic and selfish regimes both among the Arabs and elsewhere are making grave mistakes by siding with the evil, believing the day for their own demise at the hands of the West will not come. Probably, this is what Assad and others would have thought about when Moamar Gaddafi was being bombed and strangulated, but the day did come for the Assads, and might do so for the others like the Mullas of Tehran. The foolish Syrians who shed their valuable lives for Americans and Europeans, just because some selfish Syrians living in the West make them believe things would be better for them if Assad is removed, are simply ading the Jewish greed for money by eliminating Chinese competions in investing in these places. Nothing is going to change if and when Assad or similar entities are removed an replaced by West-fireindly regimes, only the investors would be European-Jews and American-Jews that are going to take away the riches like they do in Lybia, in Iraq and Afghanistan. Assad regime is an abomination, but that thing should be removed by the people of the country, truely alone. Bu inviting external interests that pretend to help is jusy an invitation for giving away all you have. They'll ask you to pay back the money they gave you in arms and amunitions. They will stay there for decades if not centuries.
    In Response

    by: ala albanese from: australia
    December 13, 2012 12:29 AM
    Totally agree that the new syria should be elected by the syrian people and not by the european and american president.they have overthrown lybia,iraq in the process of claiming afghanistan or should i say puppetising the government and don,t be surprised if many more middle east countries will find themselves in conflict ,so the american and european leaders can take control of their parliaments as well.Why is america going out of its way to cause conflict,do they realise that a bigger force off american hatred is growing stronger through the middle east.

    They are backing israel over the gaza strip and troubling iran and north korea has the rights to test missle if they want to go to space as every country has the rights to better themselves,how would america act if they were told they can,t do this or that they would retalliate with force believe me thats all they know.Did they actually start this dispute in the name of freedom as they seem to be wanting in on the battle to sell their arms and military support

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