France urges countries to honour funding promises to Syrian opposition

France says countries who fail to honour their promises risk compromising the legitimacy of the coaltiion in the eyes of the people fighting the Assad regime.

PARIS // France yesterday pleaded with countries to honour their promises to provide funding and other aid to the Syrian opposition.

Failure to do so, it said, risked compromising the legitimacy of the coalition in the eyes of the people fighting the regime of the president, Bashar Al Assad.

"We have to give the Syrian people a clear signal: we are at your side," said the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, as he addressed representatives of about 50 nations that France is trying to coax into following up on previous pledges.

The meeting in Paris, also attended by three Syrian National Coalition vice-presidents, took place two days before a donors conference in Kuwait.

But promises of financial aid and other assistance made in December during a Friends of Syria conference in Marrakech, Morocco, have failed to materialise. More than US$100 million (Dh367m) was offered, but it was unclear how much had been delivered.

France, which has spearheaded the formation of a viable opposition in exile, wants to make sure the pledges are honoured.

More than 100 countries have backed the Syrian National Coalition, which was formed in November, as being the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people. France was the first to confer such recognition.

Mr Fabius said it was urgent to fulfil vows to help, both humanitarian and political, almost two years after the start of Mr Al Assad's crackdown.

The coalition replaced an early opposition grouping of exiled Syrians, whose credibility was compromised by infighting and criticism that they were out of touch with Syrians fighting the Al Assad regime or suffering the results of war.

Now the new, more representative coalition risks its own survival, and it has yet to form a provisional government as it said it would do.

The United Nations says more than 60,000 people have been killed since the start of the conflict in March 2011, and Fabius held up the spectre of chaos taking over without a legitimate political force.

"Time is not on our side," said Riad Seif, a coalition vice-president.

"The Syrian people are angry at this dubious silence of the world," he said, adding that some even think a plot against their country is afoot. He pleaded for "tangible results" from the Paris meeting, both in aid and political and diplomatic support.

The Coalition "can't keep coming back empty-handed," Mr Seif said.

Even formation of a provisional government depends on strong backing from the international community, he said.

"If we announce a government without a budget, without a sure zone (inside the country), it makes no sense."

The United States set the example ahead of the Paris gathering, announcing Friday plans to send $10 million in new US aid to help alleviate hunger in northern Syria.

Yesterday, Mr Al Assad said his troops have gained the upper hand against rebels and could win in "two weeks" should Turkey stop its support for insurgents, a Lebanese newspaper reported. "The army has a very large lead on the ground and has achieved significant gains," Mr Al Assad said at his palace in Damascus, Al-Akhbar, a pro-regime Lebanese daily reported without identifying who the visitors were. Mr Assad emphasised that the military had prevented the opposition from taking full control of any of the country's 14 provinces. The rebels' "playground is limited to some border areas with Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, and some pockets in the countryside of the capital, which are being dealt with," he said.

Yesterday, an Al Qaeda-linked group fighting alongside Syrian rebels claimed responsibility for a suicide car bombing that reportedly killed dozens of Al Assad's loyalists last week. Islamic militants have been the most organised fighters battling government troops Their growing prominence has fuelled fears that Muslim radicals might try to hijack the revolt, and has contributed to the West's hesitance to equip the opposition with sophisticated weapons.

* Associated Press and Agence France-Presse