British Foreign Secretary William Hague has indicated his country would decide within days whether to officially recognise the new Syrian opposition after “encouraging” talks with its leaders in London.
Hague on Friday said he had pressed Ahmed Mouaz al-Khatib and his two deputies, who are on their first visit to a Western capital since a united Syrian opposition was formed last weekend, on the need to be inclusive and to respect human rights.
“I’m encouraged by what I’ve heard and seen from the leaders of the coalition,” he said after meeting the trio at the Foreign Office, adding that he would make a statement to parliament on the issue next week.
The new coalition was cemented in Doha in an attempt to unify Syria’s opposition groups and boost their chances of securing international recognition, arms and financing.
“We would like to be able to be in a position to recognise them as the sole legitimate representatives of the Syrian people, but I do want to hear more about their plans … about who they are going to appoint, particular positions, about whether the Kurds will be included, how much support they have inside Syria,” Hague told BBC radio earlier on Friday.
France on Tuesday became the first European power to recognise the group. Francois Hollande, the French president, will meet Syrian opposition officials in Paris on Saturday.
The French foreign minister said on Thursday that France would in the coming weeks discuss supplying arms to Syrian opposition forces.
Hague told the BBC that Britain’s National Security Council, which met on Thursday, had discussed giving military aid to the Syrian opposition, but that Britain had not changed its position and would continue to supply only non-lethal assistance.
The latest development came as country-wide protests took place after Friday noon prayers. Protesters were rallying under the banner “Supporting the National Coalition”.
Damascus outskirts bombarded
Meanwhile, Syrian troops continued bombarding southern districts of Damascus and the outskirts of the capital, activists said, after 121 people were killed in violence across Syria on Thursday.
Residents in Damascus were kept awake through the night with the sound of explosions rumbling in the capital, they told AFP news agency.
The eastern outskirts of Damascus, a key bastion of rebel fighters, were particularly hard hit on Friday.
Aleppo struggles to survive amid violence
Fierce shelling was reported in Douma, Madamiyeh al-Sham, Irbin and the Eastern Ghouta region.
Heavy bombing was also reported in the southern districts of the capital, including in Hajar al-Aswad, Tadamun and the Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp.
“Fierce shelling has resumed in Hajar al-Aswad and more than 20 shells have hit the district so far,” reported the Local Coordination Committees, a network of opposition activists on the ground.
In the northern city of Aleppo, troops and rebels clashed near Nayrab military airport, which has been under regular rebel attacks for the past several months.
Battles and shelling carried on through the night and into the early morning in several districts of Aleppo, once Syria’s thriving commercial hub.
In the central province of Homs, the army attempted to storm the rebel stronghold of Rastan from the north and fierce clashes broke out as rebels blocked the incursion.
Homs has suffered some of the worst bloodshed and destruction of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime as the army has mounted repeated attempts to recapture rebel-held areas.