Obama announces US backing for Syrian opposition | News | DW | 12.12.2012
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Obama announces US backing for Syrian opposition

The US has now given its backing to the Syrian Opposition Coalition. President Barack Obama said that Washington was satisfied that the body was truly inclusive and representative of the Syrian people.

Speaking in a television interview on Tuesday evening, Obama said that the coalition of opposition groups, rather than the government of President Bashar Assad, was now "the legitimate representative" of the Syrian people.

"We've made a decision that the Syrian Opposition Coalition is now inclusive enough, is reflective and representative enough of the Syrian population, that we consider them the legitimate representative of the Syrian people in opposition to the Assad regime," Obama said.

The announcement was due to have been made by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at a "Friends of the Syrian People" meeting in Marrakesh, Morocco on Wednesday. However, she was unable to attend because of illness.

In the interview with the ABC's news network, Obama also made clear that his administration was drawing a firm distinction between the coalition and the al Qaeda-linked al Nusra front.

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Obama backs Syrian opposition

"There is a small element of those that oppose the Assad regime, that in fact are affiliated with al Qaeda in Iraq and we have designated them, al Nusra, as a terrorist organization," Obama said.

Military commanders of several brigades from the rebel Free Syrian Army agreed to unify their command under a 30-member supreme military council at the weekend.

However, despite proving to be one of the more effective fighting forces against government troops, al Nusra - which has said it wants to replace the Assad regime with an Islamist one - was not part of the new structure.

Fighting intensifies around capital

Activists say the reorganization was necessary ahead of a decisive battle for the capital, Damascus. In the past weeks, fighting near the capital has intensified. The DPA news agency reported on Tuesday that tanks had been deployed by government forces on the western and southeastern approaches to the city.

Meanwhile, The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 125 people had been killed or wounded in the shelling of an Alawite area of the town of Aqrab, in the central province of Hama.

The opposition Local Coordination Committees said the death toll from the shelling stood at 200, but it was unclear whether the victims were Alawites - the Shiite Islam offshoot to which Assad belongs - or Sunni Muslims.

Opposition activists said that pro-Assad militias had used children as human shields in fighting with rebels.

More than 42,000 people have been killed since the uprising began in March last year, according to the Observatory's figures.

rc /jm (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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