June 12, 2013 / 7:14 AM / 5 years ago

Assad advance on rebel bastion of Aleppo threatens peace talks: France

PARIS (Reuters) - The Syrian opposition will likely boycott proposed peace talks with President Bashar al-Assad’s government unless its forces halt their advance towards the rebel stronghold of Aleppo, France said on Wednesday.

Forces loyal to Assad are massing around Aleppo in preparation for an offensive to retake the city and build on battlefield gains that have swung the momentum of Syria’s war to Assad and his Hezbollah allies.

“We must stop this advance,” Fabius said on France 2 television. “We must stop this because if the balance in the situation on the ground is not restored, then there will not be a conference in Geneva. The opposition won’t agree to come.”

The United States and Russia are trying to bring Assad’s government and his opponents together in Geneva in July, but are still at odds over several issues before the talks can begin.

France is among Western countries including the United States and Britain that say Assad has lost his legitimacy as Syria’s ruler, although they have shied away from arming the rebels for fear of bringing Islamist Jihadists to power.

“For the soldiers of the resistance, they must have weapons because Assad has planes, powerful weapons and has used chemical weapons. We shouldn’t arm them for the sake of arming them, but there has to be a rebalancing,” Fabius said.

He said Paris would respect an EU agreement not to arm rebels before August 1, but said that he had spoken to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday on the issue.

“Nobody is talking about sending troops on the ground, but the resistance fighters must be able to defend themselves,” he said.

Reporting By John Irish and Chine Labbe; Editing by Jon Boyle

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