In Long-Awaited Move, Obama Recognizes Syrian Rebels

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President Barack Obama proclaimed Syria's newly reframed opposition as the "legitimate" representative of the nation's people Tuesday, in the most significant U.S. intervention in a brutal civil war.

As Washington cranked up pressure on beleaguered President Bashar Assad, the Obama administration also blacklisted the al-Qaida-linked Al-Nusra Front, which officials here fear seeks to hijack the revolution, as a terrorist group.

It was another day of carnage inside Syria, meanwhile, as scores of civilians from Assad's minority sect were reported killed, in what appeared to be the largest scale revenge attacks yet against Alawites.

The United States has edged slowly towards recognizing the opposition Syrian National Coalition, and its move follows similar action by France, Britain, Turkey and the Gulf Cooperation Council regional grouping.

The process was slowed by concerns that the coalition, recently reconstituted under U.S. pressure, did not represent all of Syrian society, had links to extremists, and did not fully subscribe to democratic principles.

"We have made a decision that the Syrian opposition coalition is now inclusive enough, is reflective and representative enough of the Syrian population, that we consider them the legitimate representative of the Syrian people," Obama told ABC News in an interview.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had been expected to make the announcement at a Friends of the Syrian People meeting in Marrakesh, Morocco, Wednesday but could not travel owing to illness.

Washington has so far only provided humanitarian, non-lethal aid to the rebels, officially declining to send arms, a position White House spokesman Carney reiterated on Tuesday.

The U.S. administration made clear that it was differentiating between the Council and Al-Nusra, which it sees as having extreme tendencies.

"There is a small element of those that oppose the Assad regime, that in fact are affiliated with al-Qaida in Iraq and we have designated them, Al-Nusra, as a terrorist organization," Obama said in the interview.

Declaring Al-Nusra a terrorist group freezes any assets under U.S. jurisdiction and bans Americans from any transactions with it. U.S. officials also said the move would make sure aid reaches the right hands.

Countries wanting to support the opposition need to ensure they are helping "those opposition groups who truly have the best interest of Syria and Syrians in mind," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

Though a minority, Al-Nusra has been one of the most effective rebel groups fighting to overthrow Assad, raising concerns that hardline extremists are hijacking the 21-month-old revolt.

The front's fighters, many of them jihadist volunteers from around the Islamic world, were instrumental in the fall of the army's massive Sheikh Suleiman base in northern Syria on Monday after a months-long siege.

Al-Nusra has also claimed responsibility for recent suicide bombings that killed scores of people, and has said it hopes to replace the Assad family's four-decade hold on power with a strict Islamic state.

The strike on Alawites came in bomb attacks in the village of Aqrab in the central province of Hama and killed or wounded at least 125 civilians, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

"We cannot know whether the rebels were behind this attack, but if they were, this would be the largest-scale revenge attack against Alawites," members of a Shiite sect in Sunni-majority Syria, said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.

Aqrab is near Houla, a majority Sunni Muslim village where 108 people, including 49 children and 34 women, were massacred on May 25 in what was widely blamed on pro-regime militias despite denials from Damascus.

Washington also Tuesday said it was now less concerned than last week that Assad could resort to using chemical weapons stockpiles against rebels.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Syria had not taken any new steps in recent days that signal a readiness to use its arsenal.

"At this point the intelligence has really kind of leveled off. We haven't seen anything new indicating any aggressive steps to move forward in that way," Panetta told reporters aboard his plane before landing in Kuwait.

International military chiefs have met in London to discuss the Syria conflict, a diplomatic source said after a media report that they discussed plans to train rebels and give air and naval support.

A British diplomatic source confirmed that the military leaders had held talks, but played down the idea that they discussed military intervention against the Assad regime.

"As far as I know they didn't explore options in any detail, certainly they didn't explore options for military intervention," the diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

Inside Syria, and apart from the Aqrab attack, at least 68 people were killed Tuesday, the Observatory said.

With the total death toll from Syria's agony now topping 42,000, according to the Observatory's figures, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said the number of Syrian refugees in neighboring countries and the wider Arab world had now passed half a million.

Comments 18
Thumb andre.jabbour 12 December 2012, 10:25

I give Bashar 'till end of February. Mark my words.

Default-user-icon MUSTAPHA O. GHALAYINI (Guest) 12 December 2012, 14:06

nobody can give an exact timetable...but till now he is going to ecuador.

Thumb lebanon_first 12 December 2012, 17:31

100 Billion? are you out of your mind? you know what you can buy for 100 Billion ? that is 20% of the GDP of Saudi Arabia!!!

What kind of misinformation is that? Besides it is not Saudi, it is that dog Bandar Bin Sultan with the qatari dogs. King abdallah is a peace and dialogue loving individual.

Thumb lebanon_first 12 December 2012, 17:35

Phoenix. There will be no war in lebanon because of another reason. All the lebanese parties, All have too much at stake to see their investments falter. Even HA who bought half of west beirut and rebuilt dahieh does not want adventures. Today the biggest engine is money and globalization, and HA behind its jihadist slogans is hooked on that, and even more M14. Also the sunnite lebanese became more lebanese loving than before (they were palestinian loving), And also our biggest source of killings and instability, Assad regime, is on his way out. Lebanon will become a wealthy gas nation.

Thumb lebanon_first 12 December 2012, 17:50

I will explain it to u another way. Suppose there are 5Million fighters in Syria. (quarter of the population) 100,000,000,000 USD/5,000,000 people is 20,000USD per fighter. Are you really convinced that the few AK47 that the FSA owns (the tanks were stolen from the regime.)are worth 20,000USD per person.

Thumb lebanon_first 12 December 2012, 19:35

I said 5million to go your way. If you go with 100,000 fighters, that is a cost of 1M per fighter. Even if u put all the soft cost u described, 1M per fighter is a ludicrous figure.
The 4 trillion you mentionned for america's war in irak includes far fetched items that were included by an accountant adding figures arguing against the war, such as the schooling of the son of the auditor mcdonnell douglas for example. But ur nbrs are irrealistic given the size of economies. Sorry, but your numbers dont make sense.

Missing peace 12 December 2012, 19:35

mowaten = where did you learn that saudis already spent 100 000 000 000$?
please give us a link.

Thumb geha 12 December 2012, 10:49

what do you think? bashar is going to last for long?

Default-user-icon accountability (Guest) 12 December 2012, 14:48

another deja vu! We saw the fiascos and charades in iraq, afghanistan, and egypt; soon, it will be an open season orgy in syria, not knowing who bangs whom?

Missing gabby10 12 December 2012, 15:47

Good riddance Bashar. We are sick of Persian influence in our neighborhood. ASSad has killed and kept imprisoned too many Lebanese. You can only push the people so far.

Missing mansour 12 December 2012, 15:49

I hope your all wrong and Bashar stays in power there is so much more destruction the syrians can achieve they havent reached there potential yet.
Long Live The Syrian Civil War

Thumb LEBhasNOhope 12 December 2012, 21:54

There is probably a good chance the civil war will continue after he falls. Seeing him fall will sure as hell bring a lot people some closure of the monster that terrorized our country.

Thumb beiruti 12 December 2012, 16:18

It is too late for this. The genie is out of the bottle with al Qaida having filled the vacuum that the US should have filled a year ago. Now trying to parse the Syrian Opposition into "good" and "bad" is a useless game. Obama was once again, late to the fire, the house is burned, no need to throw water now.

Missing Unbiased 12 December 2012, 16:23

Did you mean day of "reckoning"?

Thumb bigsami 12 December 2012, 16:28

You've got that right tony! Scums are being removed from the face of the planet!

Missing Unbiased 12 December 2012, 16:32

It is very unfortunate to see any government, whether it is good or bad, replaced by an Islamist state. What's the verdict on Egypt and Libya? Is the Arab Spring a success or a hoax?

Thumb LEBhasNOhope 12 December 2012, 21:59

It's a success in only one way. It proved that the will of the people can bring down the government. Unfortunately it is going to take more revolutions to bring in the moderates. To bring true freedom and equality. It's one step closer to becoming governments that are afraid of their people rather than people afraid of their governments. This in now way is going to be 1 or 2 year process. It will take a decade if we are lucky.

Missing peace 12 December 2012, 17:17

us and western countries waited too long to take sides. they were waiting to see the outcoming of the revolution. they d prefer bashar to stay in place (even if our smart M8ers say it s an american plot against bashar!) because bashar is garant for the peace in golan... as they didn t help the rebels in due time islamists started to take advantage of the situation making bashar and its sheep M8 say it was an islamist plot and not a popular one! easy!
but even the praised hamas, the great palestinian resistance as the hezbis say took sides with the rebels saying they were fighting for freedom and democracy...
now this shows that the days of bashar are numbered and hezbi start to make deals with M14 undercover to preserve their future.