DAMASCUS - Syria’s new opposition chief on Tuesday called on world powers to arm President Assad’s foes, as Arab and EU leaders urged his coalition to seek broader support inside the war-torn country.
While fierce clashes raged across the country, France joined Arab states of the Gulf in pushing for international recognition of the newly-formed opposition alliance. National Coalition leader Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib urged world powers to arm rebels with “specialised weapons” as they desperately needed arms to “cut short the suffering of the Syrians and their bloodshed.” His organisation, formed on Sunday after marathon meetings in Qatar, was representative of most opposition groups, he also told AFP. “Many groups have joined. Some have reservations, and we are in touch with everyone.
Earlier on Tuesday, Khatib met French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius at a Cairo hotel. Fabius and European Union chief Catherine Ashton have expressed support for the National Coalition but have stopped short of formal recognition, a move that could facilitate more aid to the rebels. The French minister later said his country would play a leading role in seeking recognition for the National Coalition. The United States has declared its backing for the coalition, while Damascus ally Moscow has urged the opposition to drop its refusal to negotiate with the Assad regime.
Iran, meanwhile, said it will bring parties to the Syrian conflict to Tehran on Sunday to participate in a “national dialogue.”
On the ground, fierce battles and army shelling in Damascus province on Tuesday killed more than 40 people, most of them civilians, while warplanes again bombed Ras al-Ain, a strategic town on the Turkish border, a watchdog said. The fighting in the Eastern Ghuta area east of Damascus came after rebels launched an attack on public buildings in the area, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The army used tanks to shell several towns east of Damascus, including Harasta, Zabadani and Irbin, killing at least seven civilians including an unknown number of women and children, the Observatory said.
The Syrian Observatory also reported fresh air raids on Ras al-Ain, in northeastern Syria on the border with Turkey, and said 1,000 government troops had been sent to the town. The air strikes have sent a new wave of civilians pouring into Turkey, adding to the 9,000 refugees who fled late last week when rebels overran the town, an AFP photographer said. At least 106 people were killed on Tuesday across Syria - 41 civilians, 33 rebels and 32 soldiers - said the Observatory, which relies for its information on a network of activists, lawyers and medics. The watchdog has given an overall death toll of more than 37,000 since the revolt broke out in March 2011.
The Syrian Arab Red Crescent, meanwhile, estimates that at least 2.5 million people have been internally displaced by the conflict, the UN said.