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Opposition bloc to set up base in Cairo

Damascus slams Paris for supporting rebel body formed in Qatar

Gulf News

Cairo/Damascus: Syria’s new opposition coalition will set up its headquarters in Cairo, the hub of Arab diplomacy, as it lobbies foreign powers for recognition as the war-torn country’s legitimate government, officials in the movement said.

“The decision has been taken to make Cairo the permanent headquarters for the Syrian opposition coalition to meet and plan ahead,” an aide to Muath Al Khatib said on condition of anonymity.

Prominent coalition member Walid Al Bunni from the former Syrian National Council (SNC) confirmed the decision on Wednesday and said the movement was in talks with the Egyptian government to finalise arrangements for the new headquarters.

Syria’s regime unleashed tank fire and air strikes on rebels on Wednesday as it slammed France for recognising an opposition bloc formed in Qatar that it said amounted to a “declaration of war”.

Tanks shelled two Palestinian refugee camps in the opposition bastion of southern Damascus, while fighter jets bombed Maaret Al Numan, a town near Turkey which rebels captured last month, a watchdog said.

But rebel fighters killed at least 18 soldiers as they overran a military post near Ras AlAin, a town also on the Turkish border that the armed opposition seized Friday, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Meanwhile, the Israeli defense minister says “almost all” Syrian villages near the frontier with Israel have fallen into rebel hands.

Ehud Barak during a tour of the Israel-held Golan Heights, said: “Almost all of the villages, from the foot of this ridge to the very top, are already in the hands of the Syrian rebels.”

He said the Syrian army is displaying “ever-diminishing efficiency.

Earlier, French President Francois Hollande said Paris recognised the coalition as “the sole representative of the Syrian people and thus as the future provisional government of a democratic Syria, allowing an end to the Bashar Al Assad regime”.

The question of arming the rebels would now “have to be necessarily reviewed not only in France but in all countries which will recognise this government,” Hollande added.

National Coalition chief Al Khatib has called on world powers to arm President Assad’s foes, saying they desperately needed “specialised weapons” in order to “cut short the suffering of the Syrians and their bloodshed”.

On the ground, tanks moved on the Yarmuk refugee camp and the neighbouring Damascus district of Tadamum after battles in the area late Tuesday, said the Observatory.

Shells struck a second refugee camp east of Yarmuk yesterday morning while fighter jets bombarded the Idlib province town of Maaret Al Numan, which rebels seized on October 9 and the army has since sought to take back.

The latest clashes that killed at least 18 soldiers near Ras Al Ain, on the border with Turkey, also left dead three rebel fighters and wounded other combatants, said the Observatory.

An AFP photographer in the area said warplanes bombarded the frontier town and that rebel fighters fired back.

The Observatory - which relies on a network of activists, lawyers and medics on the ground – said nationwide violence killed 189 people on Tuesday, including 90 civilians.

The Britain-based watchdog has given an overall death toll of more than 38,000 since the revolt broke out in March 2011.