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Gulf countries recognise new Syria opposition bloc

By AFP - Nov 12,2012 - Last updated at Nov 12,2012

CAIRO — The six Arab Gulf states recognised a newly formed opposition bloc as the Syrian people’s legitimate representative on Monday, as border violence stoked fears of a spillover of Syria’s 20-month conflict.

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) move came a year to the day after the Arab League suspended Syria’s membership, and as the National Coalition met Arab foreign ministers in Cairo buoyed by the hard-won unity deal.

Deadly fighting flared, meanwhile, on Syria’s border with Turkey, and Israel fired across the ceasefire line on the occupied Golan Heights for a second day, scoring direct hits on the source of a mortar round that struck the Israeli-occupied part of the territory.

The GCC members — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates — became the first to recognise the opposition coalition.

“The states of the council announce recognising the National Coalition... as the legitimate representative of the brotherly Syrian people,” GCC chief Abdullatif Al Zayani said.

The oil-rich bloc would support the coalition “in order to achieve the aspirations of the Syrian people in hope that this will be a step towards a quick political transfer of power”, Zayani said.

Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassem Al Thani, whose government hosted marathon four-day talks that culminated in Sunday’s unity deal, said earlier that he would seek “full recognition” of the coalition.

His minister of state for foreign affairs, Khaled Al Attiya, said recognition would remove any obstacles to the opposition securing arms for rebel fighters.

The National Coalition’s newly installed leader, Ahmed Moaz Al Khatib, told Al Jazeera television it already had promises of weapons, but did not say from whom.

Under Sunday’s deal, the opposition agreed to establish a new supreme military council to take overall command of rebel groups on the ground and address US concerns that weapons have been reaching jihadist groups that are threatening to hijack the uprising.

Washington swiftly declared its backing for the new structure.

“We look forward to supporting the National Coalition as it charts a course towards the end of Assad’s bloody rule and the start of the peaceful, just, democratic future that all the people of Syria deserve,” State Department spokesperson Mark Toner said.

Traditional Damascus ally Moscow gave a cooler response.

It said “such alliances must act based on a platform of peaceful regulation of the conflict by Syrians themselves, without interference” and urged the opposition to drop its stated refusal to negotiate with the regime.

The head of Lebanon’s Shiite Hizbollah group, likewise an ally of Damascus, also criticised the National Coalition’s rejection of any political solution. It was “dangerous” and would lead to “more destruction,” said Hassan Nasrallah.

Fanning international concerns about the potential of a spillover, the Israeli army targeted the source of new mortar fire into the part of the Golan it occupies and reported “direct hits” on Monday.

On Sunday, an Israeli warning shot — its first across the UN-monitored ceasefire line since the 1973 Middle East war — left UN chief Ban Ki-moon “deeply concerned by the potential for escalation”, his spokesperson said.

Air strikes and shelling of rebel positions in the town of Ras Al Ain on the Turkish border killed at least 15 people, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

One bomb exploded less than 150 metres from the border, with the blast blowing out windows in houses in Ceylanpinar, where there were also injuries, the Turkish town’s mayor told Anatolia news agency.

The same blast killed four Syrians and wounded scores of others, around 20 seriously, Anatolia said, later adding that six of the wounded died.

Near the town, helicopters strafed rebels who for the past three days have besieged an army post, said the observatory.

At the far eastern end of Syria’s border with Turkey, Kurdish militia took Malikiya village after troops loyal to President Bashar Assad withdrew.

On the Jordanian frontier, shelling and clashes left two Syrian border guards dead.

Warplanes also bombed rebel positions on the strategic highway between Damascus and second city Aleppo, while clashes on the southern outskirts of the capital near a Palestinian refugee camp killed seven civilians.

At least 107 people were killed nationwide on Monday, said the observatory, which has given an overall death toll of more than 37,000 since March 2011.

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