25th Oct 2016

France recognises Syrian council, proposes military intervention

  • James L'Angelle, a pro-SNC activist based in the US, recently published a map of Syria's air defences on his blog (Photo: James L'Angelle)

In a direct echo of previous events in Libya, France has formally recoginsed the opposition Syrian National Council and proposed that international troops should protect civilians.

French foreign minister Alain Juppe signalled the change in policy at a high-profile meeting with SNC leader Burhan Ghalioun in Paris on Wednesday (23 November).

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"The Syrian National Council is the legitimate interlocutor with which we will continue to work," Juppe told press.

He noted that a Libya-type no-fly zone is "not on the agenda" because "an armed reaction could provoke a real civil war."

But he indicated international troops could be used to create safe zones for civilians and aid workers: "We will ask our European partners about the possibility of launching humanitarian operations to alleviate the suffering of the population ... Should we create humanitarian corridors, or humanitarian zones?"

Commenting on the development, Ghalioun said: "We cannot have greater, more important recognition than what the minister just said ... We have been recognised."

Previously cited obstacles to military action in Syria were the lack of a UN mandate, lack of Arab support for outside intervention and tactical problems. But the obstacles are beginning to melt away.

The UN General Assembly on Monday gave Western countries a political mandate for action by passing a resolution which called on Syrian authorities to "protect their population." The resolution went through by 122 votes against 13 with 41 abstentions, not one of them an Arab country. "It's now a new game: the Arab region has spoken," German UN ambassador Peter Wittig said.

In terms of tactics, the creation of a secure "humanitarian zone" fits with French military thinking on how to bring down Syrian President Bashar Assad.

SNC member Muhammed Tayfur is already in talks with Turkey on a secure zone 8km inside Syrian territory which would effectively give the Free Syrian Army, the armed wing of the opposition, a safe base of operations.

A source in the French military told EUobserver: "There is no will to go for a no-fly zone or buffer zone. It's impossible to reproduce Libya in Syria, because of terrain which would make an air operation very difficult. But, the exact words I heard [from colleagues] were: 'If the Syrian rebels manage to hold a position (a bit like Benghazi in Libya) all cards are on the table'."

For his part, former French air force chief Jean Rannou earlier told this website: "I don't see any purely military problems [for intervention]. Syria has no defence against Western systems."

In a sign the EU is keen to stimulate an end-game in Syria, diplomats this week also agreed to drastically ramp up economic sanctions.

The new package - according to Reuters - is to include a ban on investment in Syrian sovereign bonds, a ban on private-sector bank loans and a ban on trading Syrian gold.

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton on Wednesday echoed the Juppe line.

"The EU stands ready to engage with the Syrian National Council ... Protection of civilians in Syria is an increasingly urgent and important aspect of responding to the events in the country," her spokesman said after she met with a US-based SNC spokesman, Radwan Ziadeh, in Brussels.

Prominent MEP Guy Verhofstadt after a separate meeting with Ziadeh in the EU capital said the Union should: "Examine the possibility of a no-fly zone on the border with Turkey to safeguard civilians in that region."

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