May 14, 2013 / 11:57 PM / 6 years ago

Britain, France counter Syria call for UN to sanction militants

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Britain and France have delayed a Syrian request for Islamist al-Nusra Front to be designated by the United Nations as a terrorist group because they want the militants to instead be listed as an alias of al Qaeda, diplomats said on Tuesday.

The U.N. Security Council’s al Qaeda sanctions committee is due to discuss the counter-proposal by Britain and France for listing Nusra later this week, said council diplomats, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

The issue is procedural as either way Nusra would still be listed on the al Qaeda sanctions list and be subject to the same arms embargo, travel bans and asset freeze. All 15-members of the sanctions committee must agree for Nusra to be listed.

Nusra, one of the most effective forces fighting President Bashar al-Assad, last month pledged allegiance to al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri. The U.S. State Department designated it as a terrorist organization in December.

Experts have long said Nusra is receiving support from al Qaeda-linked militants in neighboring Iraq. The group claimed responsibility for deadly bombings in Damascus and Aleppo, and its fighters have joined other Syrian rebel brigades.

Syria’s conflict started more than two years ago with mainly peaceful demonstrations against Assad, but descended into a civil war in which the United Nations says at least 70,000 people have been killed. Islamist militants have emerged as the most potent of the anti-Assad rebel groups.

The Islamist element of the Syrian conflict poses a quandary for Western powers and their Arab allies, which favor Assad’s overthrow but are alarmed at the growing power of militant Sunni Muslim fighters whose fiercely anti-Shi’ite ideology has fueled sectarian tensions in the Middle East.

Reporting by Michelle Nichols and Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Mohammad Zargham

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