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      France Pessimistic About Syria Peace Talks

      French FM says the moderate Syrian opposition is in "serious difficulty", putting peace talks aimed at ending the crisis in trouble.
      By Elad Benari
      First Publish: 12/15/2013, 4:43 AM

      French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius
      French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius
      Flash 90

      French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Saturday that the moderate opposition to the Syrian regime was in "serious difficulty" and that long-delayed peace talks aimed at ending the crisis were in trouble.

      "On Syria, I'm unfortunately rather pessimistic," Fabius said, according to the AFP news agency.

      "The moderate opposition that we support is in serious difficulty," he said, voicing "doubts" over the prospects of peace talks known as "Geneva 2" that mediators have been trying to organize to negotiate an end to the conflict.

      The talks are scheduled for January 22 in the Swiss city, but Fabius said there were doubts over whether they would make progress toward ending the civil war that has now raged for more than two and a half years.

      "My fellow European ministers and I are working to make (the talks) a success, but there's room for lots of doubts. And unfortunately, if this meeting's not a success, it means this martyred country is going to keep suffering -- and neighboring countries, too," he was quoted by AFP as having said in Monaco, as he left the World Policy Conference.

      The Free Syrian Army, the moderate rebel group supported by Western powers including France, has been losing ground to Islamist fighters as the insurgency against President Bashar Al-Assad has turned into a more complex conflict with schisms between the various rebel groups.

      On Wednesday, the United States and Britain both announced that they have rescinded funding for Syrian rebel groups, after extreme Islamist groups took over a base run by the Western-backed groups.

      United States Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel later said that his country would continue to support "moderate" rebel forces in Syria, but will withhold non-lethal assistance to the rebels until it can assess who is in control of arms depots and border crossings.

      The Syrian civil war has long ago become a much more complex situation than an uprising against Assad.

      Months ago, the 13-member Islamic Front for the Liberation of Syria split off from the Syrian National Council opposition force and declared Aleppo to be an independent Islamist state. Since then, a second civil war began as the more moderate rebel groups and the Islamist extremist groups fight one another.

      There have also been numerous clashes between Arab rebel groups and Kurdish militias in the north of the country. 

      The West has been weary of arming the Syrian rebels because of the presence of jihadist groups such as the Al-Nusra Front, which has pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri.

      The Western-backed opposition has said it wants the Geneva peace conference to unseat Assad, but his regime has refused to accept any preconditions on the talks.

      The extremist rebels, meanwhile, have declared that attending peace talks or negotiating with the regime would be an act of betrayal.