Syrian Opposition to Appoint Ambassador to France
France invited Syria's new opposition coalition to send an ambassador to Paris on Saturday, but remained cautious on the issue of supplying weapons to rebels, AFP reported.
According to the report, French President Francois Hollande met the National Coalition leader Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib in Paris on Saturday, telling reporters after the meeting he planned to let the group appoint an ambassador to France.
The post is to be filled by Monzer Makhous, an academic, although it was unclear if this would happen before a transitional Syrian government was formed.
Khatib, for his part, repeated his coalition's promise to build a transitional government composed of technocrats rather than politicians, and said it would include representatives of all ethnic and religious groups in Syria.
"There is no problem. The coalition exists and we will launch a call for candidates to form a government of technocrats that will work until the regime falls," Khatib told reporters, according to AFP.
Khatib appeared to have made little progress on his call for the West to arm the insurgency, which has led to an estimated 39,000 deaths since it began 20 months ago.
"The (rebel) Syrians need military means but the international community also has to exercise control," Hollande said.
He acknowledged that France could not act without agreement from its European Union partners. The EU has a strict embargo on arms deliveries to Syria. EU foreign ministers are due to discuss the embargo at talks in Brussels on Monday, reported AFP.
"The protection of liberated zones can only be done in the framework of the international community," Hollande said after meeting Khatib.
France, already one of Assad's harshest critics, on Tuesday became the first Western power to recognize the opposition coalition as the sole representative of the Syrian people.
The new, broader-based opposition alliance was formed last weekend in Doha.
France, Turkey and the Gulf states have so far granted official recognition to the new Syrian grouping. Britain's foreign minister William Hague, who met Khatib on Friday, said London was considering following suit.
Meanwhile on Saturday, Syrian rebels seized control of Hamdan airport in Deir Ezzor province on the border with Iraq, said activists monitoring the conflict.
Syria's military had used the agricultural airport as a base for helicopter gunships.
Rebels also seized several tanks and mortars the army had stored there, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told AFP.
"The rebels now control large swathes of land in the area," Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.
"The army has lost control of practically all the eastern border area, barring the Mayadeen military base" some 50 30 miles northwest of Albu Kamal, he said.
At least 66 people were killed across the country on Saturday, including 41 civilians, 24 rebels and one soldier, according to the Observatory.