France fears Islamist rise in Syria unless opposition helped
By John Irish
PARIS (Reuters) - France's foreign minister said on Monday Syria risks falling into the hands of Islamist militant groups if supporters of the Syrian opposition do not do more to help it in a 22-month-old revolt against President Bashar al-Assad.
Addressing the opening of a conference in Paris with senior members of the Syrian National Coalition, Laurent Fabius said the meeting must focus on making the opposition politically and militarily cohesive to encourage international assistance.
"Facing the collapse of a state and society, it is Islamist groups that risk gaining ground if we do not act as we should," he said. "We cannot let a revolution that started as a peaceful and democratic protest degenerate into a conflict of militias."
Western concern over the growing strength of jihadist militants fighting autonomously in the disorganized ranks of anti-Assad rebel forces is rising. This has hindered international aid to the moderate Syrian National Coalition opposition and may push it more into the arms of conservative Muslim backers, diplomatic sources say.
The meeting, which brought together Western and Arab nations and the three vice-presidents of the coalition, tackled the lack of cohesion that has led to broken promises of aid.
Coalition vice-president Riad Seif said "time is not on our side" and that the opposition no longer wanted pledges of support that would not be followed through on.
"We need an interim or transitional government to provide assistance to millions of Syrians in liberated zones and to help bring the collapse of the (Assad) regime," he said.
The insurgents now control parts of the north and east of Syria, and have made inroads in major cities. But the air power and far superior weaponry of Assad, whose family has been in power for 43 years, have limited rebel advances. Continued...