Syria slams 'hostile' France as fighting rages
DAMASCUS, Syria - Syria's regime on Sunday, November 18, slammed as "hostile" a French decision to host an opposition ambassador, as its forces bombarded southern districts of the capital and clashes raged nationwide.
France, the first Western state to recognize the opposition National Coalition as the sole representative of the Syrian people, will also ask the European Union to lift an arms embargo for the rebels on Monday.
"France is acting like a hostile nation," National Reconciliation Minister Ali Haidar told AFP in Tehran a day after France invited the coalition to send an envoy to Paris.
"It's as if it wants to go back to the time of the occupation," he added, of the French mandate in Syria after World War I.
The minister spoke as Iran hosted talks between Damascus and opposition groups tolerated by President Bashar al-Assad's regime. The National Coalition was not invited.
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi warned against sending weapons to the rebels, saying this would threaten regional stability and increase the "risk of terrorism".
Russia reiterated its alignment with Iran on the issue of providing the coalition with weapons.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned, in a message to the Tehran meeting, against the risk of weapons ending up in the hands of "Al-Qaeda and other extremist groups" seeking to seize Syria, Iranian official media reported.
The coalition, formed in Doha on November 11, says it is committed to building a provisional government represented by all ethnic and religious groups in Syria.
It refuses to engage with Damascus until Assad departs.
Despite the French offer to host an envoy, made as President Francois Hollande met National Coalition leader Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, Paris remained cautious on the issue of supplying weapons to rebels.
On the ground, Israel's army said it retaliated for shots fired at its soldiers from Syria, scoring a "direct hit" on the source of the shooting in the latest spillover of violence across the Golan Heights ceasefire line.
In Damascus, government artillery bombarded southern districts including Al-Hajar al-Aswad, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The Britain-based group, which relies on a network of activists and medics in civilian and military hospitals for its tolls, said one civilian was killed and others wounded.
Mortar rounds also hit the mainly Alawite regime heartland of Mazzeh in west Damascus, which state television blamed on "terrorist groups".
Aleppo and its environs in the north saw heavy combat, the Observatory said, reporting rebels had seized control of a "large part" of regime Base 46 they have been besieging for weeks.
The rebel fighters also captured at least 25 regime soldiers during clashes with the military at the same base, it said.
Artillery fire hit the provinces of Daraa in the south and Deir Ezzor in the east, where rebels on Saturday said they seized Hamdan airport, a helicopter gunship base.
Sunday's fighting killed at least 50 people, including 26 civilians, according to the latest figures from the Observatory which says more than 39,000 people have died in the 20-month conflict.
Academic Monzer Makhous is to become National Coalition envoy to France, although it was unclear if this would happen before a planned provisional government is formed.
Coalition chief Khatib in Paris on Saturday repeated the group's promise to build a government of technocrats. But he appeared to make little progress on his call for the West to arm the insurgency.
"The (rebel) Syrians need military means but the international community also has to exercise control," Hollande said, acknowledging France could not act without EU agreement due to the strict embargo on arms deliveries to Syria.
The European Union is due to discuss the embargo in Brussels on Monday, at France's request.
EU foreign ministers will also consider a joint approach to the new opposition bloc, while defense ministers will reportedly discuss a request from Turkey for military aid to secure its border with Syria.
Turkey and the Gulf Arab states have also officially recognized the opposition bloc, and British Foreign Secretary William Hague says London is considering following suit, with an announcement to be made this week. - Agence France-Presse