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Syrian opposition appoints envoy to France

Syria's opposition coalition has named an envoy to France. The announcement follows France's pledge to support the newly formed opposition bloc in its efforts to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad's government.

French President Francois Hollande announced that the newly formed National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces had named someone to liaise between itself and the French government. The new representative, Mounzir Makhous, would then become the official ambassador to France if the National Coalition can form provisional government in Syria (after a ceasefire).

Saturday's announcement followed a meeting between French and National Coalition leaders at the Elysee Palace in Paris. President Hollande and French Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius met with the council's head, Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib (pictured above), and Vice President Riad Seif.

According to the chairman, the Syrian National Council (SNC), which is part of the newly-formed National Coalition, told the news agency dpa from Paris that the announcement would herald more productive talks between the newly formed opposition bloc and its international partners.

"This is a step forward for all the opposition forces," SNC President George Sabra told dpa.

"It opens the door for further positive steps from the West," he said.

France is the only Western country that has officially recognized the National Coalition as the sole representative of the Syrian people. The body, made of opposition groups in and outside of Syria, signed a unity agreement in Qatar last Sunday.

Since the coalition's formation, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States have recognized its legitimacy as a force seeking to end Assad's rule. They have, however, hesitated to give it full recognition.

Meanwhile in Syria on Saturday, violence continued between Assad's government and the opposition. Reports indicated that government forces had sealed off the roads leading to Damascus, where the fighting has escalated.

The civil war in Syria began in March 2011 and has since claimed more than 35,000 lives, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

kms/mkg (dpa, Reuters, AP, dapd)