Middle Eastern & International News (15/11/2012)

France recognizes new Syria opposition

France recognizes new Syria opposition

November 13, 2012

 France became the first European power to recognize Syria’s new opposition coalition as the sole representative of its people and said on Tuesday it would look into arming rebels against President Bashar al-Assad once they form a government.

Twenty months into their bloody uprising against Assad, fragmented Syrian opposition groups struck a deal in Qatar on Sunday to form a broad coalition and their leader immediately appealed for European backing.

“I announce today that France recognizes the Syrian National Council as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people and as future government of a democratic Syria making it possible to bring an end to Bashar al-Assad’s regime,” French President Francois Hollande said, breaking ranks with European allies. Six Gulf Arab states took a similar step on Monday.

The question of arming the rebels would be looked at as soon as the rebel coalition formed a transitional government, Hollande told a news conference in Paris.

Arab League and EU foreign ministers meeting in Cairo on Tuesday welcomed the formation of the coalition as an important step forward, although their communiqué showed they had not reached a unanimous decision to recognize it as Syria’s sole authority.

The French announcement came just hours after Syria’s newly installed opposition leader urged European states to back the opposition so it could buy weapons.

Paris, one of Assad’s harshest critics, had previously ruled out arming rebel forces, concerned that weapons could get into the hands of radical Islamists.

Speaking to Reuters as Arab and European ministers met to discuss Syria at the Arab League in Cairo, Mouaz Alkhatib, the Damascus preacher elected unopposed on Sunday to lead the new group, had asked for diplomatic backing.

“I request European states to grant political recognition to the coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people and to give it financial support,” he said.

“When we get political recognition, this will allow the coalition to act as a government and hence acquire weapons and this will solve our problems,” added Alkhatib, who has been described by supporters as a moderate noted for his embrace of Syria’s religious and ethnic minorities.

So far, concerted action on Syria has been thwarted by divisions within the opposition, as well as by big power rivalries and a regional divide between Sunni Muslim foes of Assad and his Shi’ite allies in Iran and Lebanon.

Russia and China, which have lent Assad diplomatic support since the uprising erupted in March last year, have shown no sign of warming towards his Western- and Arab-backed opponents.


Cajoled by Qatar and the United States, the ineffectual Syrian National Council, previously the main opposition body based abroad, agreed to join a wider coalition on Sunday.

Britain’s foreign minister, William Hague, said the coalition must show it had support within Syria before London would acknowledge it as the rightful government.

“If they have this, yes, we will then recognize them as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people,” he told reporters at the Arab-European meeting in Cairo.

The opposition had hoped its new-found unity would clear the way for outside powers to arm the rebels, but Western nations fear such weapons could reach the hands of Islamist militants.

Western concern has also been heightened by documented reports of atrocities by ill-disciplined insurgents.

“Syria’s newly created opposition front should send a clear message to opposition fighters that they must adhere to the laws of war and human rights law, and that violators will be held accountable,” New York-based Human Rights Watch said.


Assad, whose family has ruled Syria for 42 years, has vowed to fight to the death in a conflict that has already killed an estimated 38,000 people and risks sucking in other countries.

His warplanes again struck homes in Ras al-Ain, a town on the northern border seized by rebels last week. Civilians fled over the border dividing it from the Turkish town of Ceylanpinar and thick plumes of smoke billowed upwards.

Syrian jets and artillery hit the town of Albu Kamal on the frontier with Iraq, where rebels have seized some areas, according to the mayor of the Iraqi border town of Qaim.

Tension also remained high on the Golan Heights, where Israeli gunners have retaliated against stray Syrian mortar fire landing on the occupied plateau in the previous two days.

Twenty months of conflict have created a vast humanitarian crisis, with more than 408,000 Syrians fleeing to neighboring countries and up to four million expected to need aid by early next year, according to the United Nations.

Fighting has also displaced 2.5 million civilians inside Syria, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent estimates.

“If anything, they believe it could be more; this is a very conservative estimate,” Melissa Fleming, chief spokeswoman of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said in Geneva.

“So people are moving, really on the run, hiding,” she told a news briefing. “They are difficult to count and access.”

In Cairo, Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby urged opposition factions to join Alkhatib’s group, formally known as the Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces.

But although six Gulf Arab nations recognized the coalition as Syria’s only legitimate representative on Monday, Iraq, Algeria and Lebanon prevented the League from following suit.

Iraq and Lebanon, with influential Shi’ite populations, have generally maintained better relations with Iran and with Assad, whose minority Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam.

Arab League recognizes Syria’s new opposition bloc

November 13, 2012

 The Arab League on Monday recognized a newly formed Syrian opposition bloc as “legitimate,” urging more opposition groups to join the coalition, but Lebanon dissociated itself from the AL action.

Arab foreign ministers gathered in Cairo in a statement after talks called the National Council, formed in Doha on Sunday, “the legitimate representative and main interlocutor with the Arab League.”

They called on “the rest of the opposition to join this national coalition so that it brings together all segments of the Syrian people.”

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) said Monday its six member states have decided to recognize the newly formed National Coalition of the Syrian opposition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.

“The states of the council announce recognizing the National Coalition for the Forces of the Syrian Revolution and Opposition… as the legitimate representative of the brotherly Syrian people,” GCC chief Abdullatif al-Zayani said in a statement.

The GCC comprises Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait.

The statement said the GCC was “looking forward to Arab states and the international community recognizing the coalition.”

Zayani said the nations of the oil-rich bloc would support the new body which was formed on Sunday after marathon talks in Doha to unite the opposition against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

“Council states will provide support to this new entity, in order to achieve the aspirations of the Syrian people, in hope that this (coalition) will be a step towards a quick political transfer of power,” Zayani said.

The GCC secretary general also said he hoped that the formation of the new coalition “would lead to ending the bloodshed, protect the territorial unity of Syria, and to hold a general national congress to pave the way to build a state ruled by law and open to all its citizens without exceptions or discrimination.”

The deal to form a broad-based opposition to take the uprising forward drew a warm welcome from Western governments that had expressed frustration with the leadership divisions that have plagued the revolt against Assad’s regime.

Late Sunday, the United States also declared its support for the united Syrian opposition.

“We look forward to supporting the National Coalition as it charts a course toward the end of Assad’s bloody rule and the start of the peaceful, just, democratic future that all the people of Syria deserve,” State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement.

Hezbollah slams Syrian opposition bloc

The head of Lebanon’s Shiite group Hezbollah, a key ally of Syria’s President Assad, on Monday denounced a newly formed Syrian opposition bloc as a U.S. invention whose refusal to negotiate would only lead to more destruction.

“They (the Syrian opposition) met in Doha, locked themselves in a hotel to form a new group and did what (U.S. Secretary of State Hillary) Clinton and America wanted,” Hassan Nasrallah told a Beirut ceremony, speaking by video link.

“But the most dangerous aspect is that the opposition parties decided unanimously in Doha to reject dialogue and a political solution,” Nasrallah said, his speech relayed on a giant screen.

“That is to say, they have chosen the path of destruction. And who will profit from this? Clinton, the United States, Israel and certain regional parties.”

He again called on the Syrian opposition to engage in dialogue with Assad, an appeal already rejected outright by the dissidents who say any talks are conditional on Assad’s departure.

Meanwhile, fighting flared on Syria’s border with Turkey on Monday, while Israel fired across the ceasefire line on the Golan for a second day, stoking fears of a spillover of the 20-month conflict.

At least 52 people were killed across Syria on Monday, including 24 civilians, said the Observatory for Human Rights, which has given an overall death toll of more than 37,000 since the revolt broke out in March 2011.

FM distances Lebanon from AL action

During a press conference after the Arab League recognized the newly formed Syrian opposition bloc Lebanon FM Adnan Mansour, a key ally of Hezbollah and Syria said ” right from the beginning Lebanon adopted the policy of dissociation with regards to the uprising in Syria and for this reason we will also dissociate Lebanon from this recognition. We repeat our call for dialogue between the Syrian regime and the opposition ”

US to overtake Saudi Arabia as world’s top oil producer: IEA

November 13, 2012

 The United States will overtake Saudi Arabia as the world’s top oil producer by 2017, the West’s energy agency said on Monday as a steep rise in shale oil and gas production pushes the country toward self-sufficiency in energy.

The International Energy Agency (IEA), which advises major industrialized nations on energy policies, gave the estimates in an annual long-term report. Its conclusions were in sharp contrast with its 2011 report, which saw Saudi Arabia remaining the top producer throughout 2035.

“Energy developments in the United States are profound and their effect will be felt well beyond North America—and the energy sector,” the IEA said.

“The recent rebound in U.S. oil and gas production, driven by upstream technologies that are unlocking light tight oil and shale gas resources, is spurring economic activity—with less expensive gas and electricity prices giving industry a competitive edge,” it added.

The IEA said it saw a continued fall in U.S. oil imports with North America becoming a net oil exporter by around 2030.

IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol told a news conference in London he believed the United States would overtake Russia as the biggest gas producer by a significant margin by 2015. Shortly after that, by 2017, the United States would become the largest oil producer, he said.


Jumblatt urges Obama to try to end Arab-Israeli conflict

November 12, 2012

 Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt sent a cable to US president Barack Obama congratulating him on his re-election as president of the United States, and urging him to apply political pressure to end the Arab-Israeli conflict.

“The re-election of Obama reflects the confidence of U.S. citizens in their president and their aspiration to keep up the previously adopted polices by the U.S. administration,” a statement from Jumblatt’s press office said.

Jumblatt reportedly expressed his hope that the U.S. administration will work to achieve peace in the Middle East and apply the two-state solution, based on the 1967 borders, to end the Arab-Israeli conflict.

“I hope the U.S will exercise the required political pressure to find a way out to the Arab-Israeli conflict based on the two-state solution,” Jumblatt said.

The PSP leader also called on the U.S. president to support the State project in Lebanon and to strengthen the Lebanese Army in order to fulfill its patriotic duties and responsibilities.

Jumblatt called for special relations with the US

“In the midst of the historical changes taking place in Arab countries towards democratic and human rights values, this part of the world is looking for establishing special relations with the U.S.,” Jumblatt said .

Obama was re-elected last week, beating Republican challenger Mitt Romney and capping what was a fierce campaign by both candidates.


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