France Warns Islamists Could Gain Ground in Syria
Syria's main opposition alliance appealed Monday for cash and weapons from the international community as France warned that failing to deliver them would bolster Islamist militants in the fight against President Bashar Assad.
"With a state and a society collapsing, it is the Islamist groups that could gain ground if we do not do what we have to do," Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told an international meeting at which a leader of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) said the organization would need $500 million (370 million euros) to set up an alternative government.
The Paris meeting brought SNC leaders together with officials from around 50 countries.
"We cannot allow a rebellion that began as (a) peaceful and democratic protest degenerate into confrontation between rival militias," Fabius said. "This conference has to send a clear signal, (that) it has one concrete objective: give the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) the means to act."
France has led moves to have the SNC recognized internationally as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.
But the credibility of the opposition alliance has been damaged by mounting evidence that extremist Islamists are playing a central role in the campaign against Assad.
"The Syrian people are involved in a ferocious battle. Time is not on our side and an extension of the conflict can only lead to catastrophe for the region and the world," said SNC vice-president Riad Seif.
"We don't need any more unkept promises," he added.
George Sabra, head of the Syrian National Council, the main body in the coalition, said the opposition was desperately in need of cash and arms.
"We need a minimum of 500 million dollars to be able to establish a government," he said. "And we need weapons, weapons and more weapons."
European governments are prohibited from delivering weapons to either side of the Syrian conflict because of an EU arms embargo. Although the embargo is due for review next month, it is thought unlikely it will be eased because of concerns that weapons may fall into jihadist hands.
Arab and Western "Friends of Syria" agreed in December to provide a total of $145 million of support for the opposition, two-thirds of it from Saudi Arabia, but the money has yet to be delivered.
The SNC was created in November with its various components saying they would fight under a unified military command.
But Islamist groups, some which have links to Al-Qaida, have declined to join the coalition, saying their goal is the creation of an Islamic state to replace Assad's regime.