EU voices support for Syrian opposition

EU foreign ministers have voiced their support for a new Syrian opposition coalition, describing them as the "legitimate representatives" of the Syrian people. Reports Gerald Callaghan.

By Gerald Callaghan

20 Nov 2012

The 'national coalition of Syrian revolutionary and opposition forces' replace an earlier group that was regarded as ineffectual because it mainly included exiled figures, which according to some military experts 'lacked credibility' among frontline fighters.

On 11 November, the coalition brought together five political blocs and social groupings, formed under the guidance of the United States, Turkey and several gulf Arab countries.

In a statement released by the EU on Monday, it was announced, "The EU looks forward to this new coalition continuing to work for full inclusiveness, subscribing to the principles of human rights and democracy and engaging with all opposition groups and all sections of Syrian civil society."

Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign affairs chief, said that the description of the coalition as "legitimate representatives" was "a position that all member states felt extremely comfortable with".

Several extremist Islamist groups fighting in Syria have since said they reject the new opposition coalition, bringing concerns about the rising influence of religious fundamentalism amid the chaos of the 20-month civil war.

"The EU looks forward to this new coalition continuing to work for full inclusiveness, subscribing to the principles of human rights and democracy and engaging with all opposition groups and all sections of Syrian civil society" - Foreign affairs council statement

The majority of the fighting has been between the Sunni Arab rebels and the Alawite-led government forces, but many analysts warn that the country's Kurdish communities might get involved to try and secure more autonomy for their regions, destabilising the country further.

Fighting between the Kurds and rebels had severe regional implications; as the war has emboldened Kurdish militants in south-eastern Turkey, where they have been in conflict with the government for almost 30 years.

Meanwhile, events in Syria and Gaza are putting the EU's foreign policy to the test, as member states have had to agree a common stance on the situation.

The conflict in Syria has led to an estimated 38,000 deaths so far, provoking France to call for a partial lifting of the EU's weapons embargo so that opposition forces can arm themselves more effectively.

However, other EU member states are wary of any move that could deepen the crisis and increase the death toll, stressing that a political solution is the answer.

EU foreign ministers said that they were "committed to further increase its humanitarian assistance" to civilians affected by the crisis, but they stopped short of France's call for full support for the opposition coalition.

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