As Syria aims missiles at rebels, nations pledge support for opposition
Published Wednesday, December 12, 2012 9:15AM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, December 12, 2012 8:53PM EST
On a day reports emerged that Syrian government forces fired Scud missiles on rebels seeking the president’s ouster, officials from more than 100 countries, excluding Canada, recognized the troubled nation’s new opposition coalition.
Two U.S. officials said Wednesday that President Bashar Assad’s forces fired missiles from near the capital, Damascus, into northern Syria.
One of the officials, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, said there was no indication that the missiles contained chemical weapons -- something the international community has been concerned about in recent days.
A U.S. State Department spokesperson confirmed that Assad has fired missiles, but would not say what kind were used. The White House declined to confirm the reports.
There were also reports Wednesday of an explosion near the Syrian Interior Ministry in Damascus amid increased fighting around the capital.
Meanwhile, representatives from more than 100 countries attending a conference in Morocco agreed to recognize the new Syrian National Coalition, which was formed last month at a meeting in Qatar. With formal recognition comes the possibility of increased humanitarian aid from the international community.
"With every day that passes, the regime's hold on power weakens. Territory slips from its grasp. The opposition becomes more unified and organized," said U.S. Deputy Secretary of State for the Middle East William Burns.
"We look to the coalition to continue creating more formal structures within the opposition and to accelerate planning for a democratic political transition that protects the rights, the dignity and the aspirations of all Syrians and all communities.”
Burns also announced that coalition leaders are invited to Washington.
Canada did not join the widespread international support for the opposition, instead announcing a $15 million boost in humanitarian aid to help the countries that neighbour Syria deal with the mass influx of refugees.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird pledged $5 million more for Jordan, on top of the $6.5 million Canada announced earlier this year. As well, another $10 million will go to international aid agencies that are helping refugees.
Canada is also pledging $1.5 million worth of protective personal equipment to Jordan in the event of a chemical or biological weapons attack in Syria.
Baird said Wednesday he met with the opposition chairman. However, he said Canada needs reassurance on two issues in order for it to recognize the coalition. First, that all groups, such as Kurds, Christians, and Sunni and Shiite Muslims, are assured a place in Syria. As well, that extremists among the opposition are excluded.
"These will be ongoing challenges in an increasingly worrying environment," said Baird.
"Canada is concerned by the rise in terrorist activity inside Syria and signs of growing sectarianism fuelled by those who wish to sow disunity rather than unity and who seek exclusivity rather than inclusiveness."
Despite the international community’s support of the coalition, it is unlikely to lead to military intervention, if Syria’s allies Russia and China continue to stymie efforts at the United Nations to establish peace.
In a final communique from the conference, attendees said Assad’s regime had lost all legitimacy, but it did not call for him to step down. It did warn of “a serious response” if the regime unleashes chemical weapons on the rebels.
"I believe that of all the meetings we have had so far for the friends of Syria, this will turn out to be the most significant," British Foreign Secretary William Hague said at the final news conference.
In addition to Canada, conference attendees pledged more humanitarian aid for Syrians, including a fund to be managed by Germany and the United Arab Emirates to help reconstruct a post-Assad Syria.
The fighting between rebel forces and the Assad regime has left an estimated 2 million people displaced and 40,000 dead.
Opposition member Saleem Abdul Aziz al Meslet said Wednesday that the rebels need military assistance.
"We need not only bread to help our people," al Meslet told The Associated Press. "We need support for our Syrian army. We need to speed up things and get rid of this regime."
With files from The Associated Press and The Canadian Press