More than 100 countries have recognised a new Syrian opposition coalition, opening the way for greater assistance to the forces fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad, including possibly military aid.
Backing for the Syrian National Coalition, formed in Qatar in November, was given at an international conference of the “Friends of the Syrian People” in Morocco on Wednesday.
The opposition had been under intense international pressure to create a more organised and representative body to channel any aid extended by foreign countries.
While the coalition welcomed the move, the opposition said they were looking for more tangible political and financial backing and that they want members of Assad’s government to be brought to the International Criminal Court.
International recognition of the Libyan opposition gave it a huge boost in the battle against Muammar Gaddafi last year, and was later backed by Western air strikes.
Military intervention does not appear to be in the cards for Syria, where the government has the powerful backing of Russia, China and Iran.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the meeting in Marrakesh had made “extraordinary progress”.
He noted that the European Union is now renewing its weapons embargo on Syria every three months, rather than annually, to be more flexible as the situation on the ground changes.
“We want to have the ability to continue or to change our attitude on this point,” he said.
“The fact that the coalition, which is asking for the right to defend itself, is now being recognised by a hundred countries – yesterday the US and first France – I think this is a very important point.”
The US announced on Wednesday that it would provide nearly $14 million in additional humanitarian aid that will go towards “nutrition support for children, as well as additional emergency medical an winterisation supplies to families in need inside Syria”.
According to statement released by the State Department, the additional funds would bring the total US humanitarian aid to Syria to $210 million.
The conference’s final statement said Assad had lost all legitimacy but stopped short of calling for him to step down, something attending ministers did say individually.
The statement also warned that any use of chemical weapons “would draw a serious response” from the international community.
“I believe that of all the meetings we have had so far for the friends of Syria, this will turn out to be the most significant,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague said at the final news conference.
The conference members also announced new humanitarian assistance for Syrians, including $100m from Saudi Arabia and a fund to be managed by Germany and the United Arab Emirates for the reconstruction of the country after Assad falls.
Western countries have been reluctant to send arms to Syria, not the least because of their experience in Libya, where the West actively backed one side in a civil war in a country that later became awash with armed groups.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO secretary general, said from Brussels that international recognition of the Syrian opposition coalition was a “step in the right direction of a political solution”.
“Clearly, there is no military solution to the conflict in Syria – we need a political solution,” he told Al Jazeera.
“We don’t have any intention to intervene militarily.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Wednesday that recognition of the Syrian opposition coalition contradicts earlier international agreements aimed at starting a Syria dialogue that would include all sides in the conflict.
Germany’s lower house of parliament are debating whether to send patriot missiles and 400 soldiers to the Turkish-Syrian border.
Germany is considering arming the border at Turkey’s request to keep the war in Syria from spilling over.