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Dec 11, 2012 No Comments ›› Pat Dollard

Excerpted from ABC News: In a diplomatic shift, President Obama said today his administration now formally recognizes the newly-formed, leading coalition of Syrian rebels who are fighting to topple Syria’s embattled President Bashar Assad.

“We’ve made a decision that the Syrian Opposition Coalition is now inclusive enough, is reflective and representative enough of the Syrian population that we consider them the legitimate representative of the Syrian people in opposition to the Assad regime,” Obama said.

The announcement, made during an exclusive interview with ABC News’ Barbara Walters, grants new legitimacy to the rebel group and marks a new phase in U.S. efforts to isolate the Assad regime.

“It’s a big step,” Obama said of the decision. The United States follows Britain and the European Union, both of which last month recognized the Syrian opposition group.

The diplomatic designation will allow the United States to more closely support rebel efforts, including the organization of a future post-Assad government, administration officials said.

“Obviously, with that recognition comes responsibilities,” Obama said of the young coalition. “To make sure that they organize themselves effectively, that they are representative of all the parties, [and] that they commit themselves to a political transition that respects women’s rights and minority rights.”

The move does not include the provision of weapons, but it opens the door for that possibility in the future.

“Providing arms has to be done in a way that helps promote a political solution,” one senior Obama administration official said today. “And until we understand how these arms promote a political solution, we do not see how provision of arms is a good idea.”

But the official added, “the president has never ruled out in the future providing arms.”

Obama expressed caution today about some Syrian factions involved with the coalition, warning that the United States will not support extremist elements.

“Not everybody who’s participating on the ground in fighting Assad are people who we are comfortable with,” Obama told Walters. “There are some who, I think, have adopted an extremist agenda, an anti-U.S. agenda, and we are going to make clear to distinguish between those elements.”

The president specifically singled out the group Jabhat al-Nusrah for its alleged affiliation with Al Qaeda in Iraq. The State Department says the jihadist group is responsible for nearly 600 violent attacks in major Syrian cities in the past year.

“Through these attacks, al-Nusrah has sought to portray itself as part of the legitimate Syrian opposition while it is, in fact, an attempt by [Al Qaeda in Iraq] to hijack the struggles of the Syrian people for its own malign purposes,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

The Obama administration blacklisted al-Nusrah earlier this week, imposing economic sanctions and branding it a terrorist organization.

Recognition of the Syrian rebel group has been expected. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was to formally announce the new relations with the United States during a meeting of international allies supporting Syria’s rebels in Marrakech, Morocco, on Wednesday.

She has since cancelled her trip because of an illness. Her deputy, Bill Burns, will attend in her place.

Excerpted from The Guardian: The leaders of Syria’s western-backed opposition are to unveil plans on Wednesday to rapidly move hundreds of millions of dollars worth of humanitarian aid into the most deprived areas of the country.

The announcement, hailed as a watershed moment for the movement, will be made at the Friends of Syria summit in Marrakech attended by regional and western backers of the opposition.

The event is intended to cement claims by the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) to be an alternative to the government of the embattled president, Bashar al-Assad.

The US has signalled it will recognise the SNC as a “legitimate” representative of the Syrian people because it has moved to organise itself into a more inclusive and relevant body. Britain, France, Turkey and some Gulf states announced their endorsements last month.

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, had been expected to announce the US move on Wednesday, but she has fallen ill with a stomach virus and the deputy secretary of state, Bill Burns, will attend the event instead.

The US officially proscribed a jihadist group fighting in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra, as a terrorist organisation on Tuesday, alleging it is an alias for al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI) that has claimed responsibility for about 600 attacks, including 40 suicide bombings.

An official from Barack Obama’s administration, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the transition to a post-Assad government was gathering speed and the US did not want extremists dictating the shape of the transition.

He said the al-Nusra Front for the People of the Levant rejected the mainstream Syrian opposition groups’ vision of a tolerant society and free elections. “It is an extremist organisation that has to be isolated,” the official said.

State department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said: “Al-Nusra has sought to portray itself as part of the legitimate Syrian opposition while it is, in fact, an attempt by AQI to hijack the struggles of the Syrian people for its own malign purposes. AQI emir Abu Du’a is in control of AQI and al-Nusra.”

Abu Shahid, a fighter with the Tawhid brigade, was among several FSA fighters who reacted angrily to the US decision. “Jabhat al-Nusra are not terrorists. They are working hard for us. They are fighting with us,” he said. “Jabhat al-Nusra has been helping Syria. The Americans by contrast have done nothing. And now they say everyone with a beard is a terrorist.”

Shahid said his unit mostly conducted its own operations but had co-operated with jihadist fighters in the battle for Aleppo. “The boys from Jabhat al-Nusra are brave. They give food and supplies to the people,” he said.

Shahid expressed provisional backing for Syria’s new opposition coalition: “We like the coalition for now. But when the regime is finished, we will see. If we don’t like it, we will make a new government.”

Haji Abu Mohamed, a Syrian living near Aleppo, responded more positively to the US clampdown on Jabhat al-Nusra. “We want normal Islam, and a normal Islamic country. We need democracy. That’s our target,” he said.