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PARIS (Reuters) - France broke ranks with its European allies on Tuesday by officially recognizing Syria's new opposition coalition and said it would consider arming the rebels once they created a government in waiting.
Syrian opposition groups struck a deal in Doha on Sunday to form a broad coalition to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad after 20 months of an uprising against his rule.
Arab and EU foreign ministers welcomed the formation of the coalition at a meeting in Cairo on Tuesday as an important step forward, but stopped short of recognizing it.
"I announce today that France recognizes the Syrian national coalition as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people and as the future government of a democratic Syria making it possible to bring an end to Bashar al-Assad's regime," Hollande told a news conference in Paris.
Paris, one of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's harshest critics, has previously ruled out arming rebel forces, concerned that weapons could get into the hands of radical Islamists.
Hollande suggested this stance may now change.
"On the question of weapons deliveries, France did not support it as long as it wasn't clear where these weapons went," Hollande said.
"With the coalition, as soon as it is a legitimate government of Syria, this question will be looked at by France, but also by all countries that recognize this government."
France was the first country to formally recognize the Libya's transitional government as an alternative to former leader Muammar Gaddafi and at the time also broke ranks from its European partners.
The Gulf Cooperation Council recognized the new coalition on Monday.
(This story has been corrected to change the word "Council" in quote to "coalition" in 4th paragraph)
Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Paul Taylor