* Violence fuels border tension with Turkey, Iraq, Israel
* France, Britain indicate no immediate recognition
* Humanitarian crisis worsens, 2.5 million uprooted
By Yasmine Saleh
CAIRO, Nov 13 Syria's new opposition body sought
Arab and European backing on Tuesday, but Britain and France
seemed to set new conditions for its recognition as an interim
government to take over should President Bashar al-Assad fall.
The Syrian leader has vowed to fight to the death in a
conflict that has already killed an estimated 38,000 people and
risks sucking in other countries in the volatile Middle East.
Arab and European officials met leaders of the new Syrian
National Coalition in Cairo in Tuesday as Assad's warplanes
again struck homes in the northern, rebel-held town of Ras
al-Ain. Civilians fled over the border dividing it from the
Turkish town of Ceylanpinar and thick plumes of smoke billowed
Syrian jets and artillery hit the town of Albu Kamal on the
frontier with Iraq, where rebels have seized some areas,
according to the mayor of the Iraqi border town of Qaim.
Tension also remained high on the Golan Heights, where
Israeli gunners have retaliated against stray Syrian mortar fire
landing on the occupied plateau in the previous two days.
Twenty months of conflict have created a vast humanitarian
crisis, with more than 408,000 Syrians fleeing to neighbouring
countries and up to four million expected to need aid by early
next year, according to the United Nations.
Fighting has also displaced 2.5 million civilians inside
Syria, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent estimates.
"If anything, they believe it could be more; this is a very
conservative estimate," Melissa Fleming, chief spokeswoman of
the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said in Geneva.
"So people are moving, really on the run, hiding," she told
a news briefing. "They are difficult to count and access."
Until now, concerted action on Syria has been thwarted by
divisions within the opposition, as well as by big power
rivalries and a regional divide between Sunni Muslim foes of
Assad and his Shi'ite allies in Iran and Lebanon.
Cajoled by Qatar and the United States, the ineffectual
Syrian National Council, previously the main opposition body
based abroad, agreed to join a wider coalition on Sunday.
But France's defence minister said it was premature to give
the new body full recognition, saying it needed to unite armed
rebel factions within Syria under its umbrella.
"What happened in Doha is a step forward," Jean-Yves Le
Drian told reporters in Paris. "It is still not sufficient to
constitute a provisional government that can be recognised
internationally. But it's on the right track."
Britain's foreign minister, William Hague, also said more
needed to be done to rally support inside the country before
London would recognise the coalition led by moderate Muslim
cleric Mouaz Alkhatib as the rightful government of Syria.
"It is a very important milestone," Hague told reporters at
a meeting of Arab and European ministers at the Arab League
headquarters in Cairo.
"We want to see the Syrian opposition be inclusive ... and
have support inside Syria and if they have this, yes, we will
then recognise them as the legitimate representative of the
The opposition had hoped its new-found unity would clear the
way for outside powers to arm the rebels, but Western nations
fear such weapons could reach the hands of Islamist militants.
Western concern has also been heightened by documented
reports of atrocities by ill-disciplined insurgents.
"Syria's newly created opposition front should send a clear
message to opposition fighters that they must adhere to the laws
of war and human rights law, and that violators will be held
accountable," New York-based Human Rights Watch said.
The French defence minister called for "a unification of
military action to avoid haphazard military operations" and also
urged rebels to rein in radical Islamist "Salafist elements".
European caution, and an Arab League endorsement that stops
well short of full recognition, indicate that the coalition
forged with such difficulty in Qatar two days ago may face a
tough quest for wholehearted backing, even from its allies.
Russia and China, which have lent Assad diplomatic support
since the uprising erupted in March last year, have shown no
sign of warming towards his Western- and Arab-backed opponents.
Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby threw his weight behind the
new body at the Arab-European meeting in Cairo.
"We hope that the remaining opposition factions join the
Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary
Forces and we urge the countries of the world to recognise it
and give it all the support," he said.
But although six Gulf Arab nations recognised the coalition
as Syria's only legitimate representative on Monday, Iraq,
Algeria and Lebanon prevented the League from following suit.
Iraq and Lebanon, with influential Shi'ite populations, have
generally maintained better relations with Iran and with Assad.
In other scattered violence reported by opposition activists
inside Syria, the governor Raqqa province in the northeast
wounded in an attack on his convoy, the Syrian Observatory for
Human Rights said. In the same province, a bomb near a church
killed a woman, state news agency SANA said, blaming rebels.
Near Damascus, the rebel unit the Armoured Ghouta Brigade
said in an online video posting showing smoke and damage at a
military installation that its fighters had stormed an air
defence base and "killed many officers".
None of the reports of violence in Syria could be