France to Let Syria Council Establish Ambassador

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PARIS -- Days after recognizing the newly formed Syrian opposition council as the "sole representative" of the Syrian people, President François Hollande of France met with its leaders in Paris on Saturday and agreed to install a new Syrian ambassador in France.

The French move comes even before the new council, the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, has established a provisional government, which is expected to happen soon.

After the meeting with the council's leader, Sheik Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib, and his deputies, Mr. Hollande said that his government would raise the issue of lifting a European Union arms embargo against all Syrian forces at a meeting of foreign ministers on Monday in Brussels.

The United States and Europe have been reluctant to provide arms to Syrian rebel forces, which have been joined by Islamist fighters from other countries.

But Mr. Hollande and his government, already providing nonlethal assistance to so-called liberated zones in Syria, have been discussing how to provide military aid, too, so the rebels can better defend their territory. Without a stable opposition zone of reasonable size inside Syria, it is hard for the West to provide military aid, as it did for the Libyan opposition.

In a statement, Mr. Hollande said the arms embargo remained a delicate question. "While the Syrians need military means," he said, Western governments want to assure themselves that the weapons are under control.

Mr. Hollande said that Mr. Khatib, a former imam of the historic Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, reassured him that the coalition sought to unify the Syrian people. France, the president said, will move quickly to try to assure the council's "legitimacy and credibility."

Mr. Khatib said the new envoy to France would be Mounzir Makhous, describing him as "one of the first to speak of liberty" in Syria and an Alawite, the minority sect to which Syria's president belongs. Mr. Hollande said that France would find housing and an office for the new ambassador, since the current embassy is the property of the Syrian government.

Mr. Hollande and Mr. Khatib and his deputies, Riad Seif and Suhair al-Atassi, also discussed the formation of a provisional government, the problem of Syrian refugees and the protection of liberated zones, French officials said.

On Monday, the three Syrians met in London with representatives of Britain, France, Germany, the United States, Turkey and Qatar. They returned to London on Friday to meet Foreign Secretary William Hague, who said that Britain would consider recognizing the group but that it must be inclusive and protect the rights of minorities.

Turkey and the Gulf Cooperation Council -- Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait -- have also recognized the new council as Syria's representative.

On Sunday, Reuters, citing the Israeli army, reported that some Syrian soldiers might have been killed when Israel fired artillery across the border in response to gunfire aimed at its troops in the Golan Heights.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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