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SYRIA: Damascus warns against recognizing opposition council

October 9, 2011 | 12:08 pm

REPORTING FROM BEIRUT -- Syria’s foreign minister on Sunday warned foreign nations not to bestow international legitimacy on a new opposition umbrella group that seeks to help expedite the ouster of President Bashar Assad.

Foreign Minister Walid Moallem vowed unspecified "tough measures" against any nation that recognizes the "illegitimate" Syrian National Council.

The council, a broad-based coalition of opposition factions, was formed last week in a bid to undercut support for the autocratic Assad government and to be ready to step in should Assad’s regime collapse. The council plans to pursue recognition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, though no nation has yet conferred such status on the group.

The fledgling Syrian coalition seeks to emulate the success of a Libyan opposition council that now stands as a de facto government in Tripoli. However, the Syrian and Libyan cases are different.

Assad has many more allies than former Libyan strongman Moammar Kadafi did, and Syria sits in the geopolitical center of the volatile region.

Last week, China and Russia vetoed a U.N. resolution that both countries viewed as a potential pretext for intervention in Syria.

Also, the Syrian opposition is not pushing publicly for foreign intervention, as was the case in Libya.

The Syrian opposition council has officially come out against Libya-style foreign intervention, but it has endorsed some kind of "protection" for Syrian civilians, a stance that some see as opening the door for international involvement.

Wary of the Libyan example, Damascus and its allies have warned against any outside "interference" in Syria’s affairs. The Syrian president has reportedly vowed to blanket Israel with missiles should the west launch a Libyan-style air assault in Syria.   

One reason that the Assad regime was determined to crush protests in besieged cities like Hama and Rastan, analysts say, is its resolve to retain control of all national territory and avoid what some call a  Syrian Benghazi –- a reference to the Libyan city that served as a rebel capital and base of armed resistance.


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-- Patrick McDonnell

Photo: Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem talks to reporters in Damascus on Sunday. Credit: Louai Beshara / AFP / Getty Images