PARIS(AFP) – Syria’s new opposition chief met Saturday with French President Francois Hollande for talks on protection of “liberated” zones, refugees and how to form a provisional government for the war-torn state.
The leaders met as fighting continued on the ground, with a car bomb exploding as rebel and regime forces clashed in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, while mortar rounds struck near Damascus.
Hollande and Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius met Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib and his two deputies at the Elysee for discussions that come just four days after France became the first Western country to recognise the newly formed coalition as the sole representative of the Syrian people.
Elysee aides said the talks would centre on “ways and means to assure the protection of liberated zones, humanitarian aid for refugees and the constitution of a provisional government”.
Hollande and Khatib were due to make a statement to the press after the meeting.
France on Thursday raised the prospect of providing Syria’s rebels with defensive weapons. Foreign Minister Fabius said Paris would discuss its proposal to ease the EU arms embargo that currently covers both sides.
Khatib and his deputies, Riad Seif and Suhair al-Atassi, met Friday in London with British Foreign Secretary William Hague, who indicated he would decide within days whether to officially recognise the new Syrian opposition.
Hague said he had pressed Khatib and his two deputies, who are on their first visit to a Western capital since a united Syrian opposition was formed last weekend, on the need to be inclusive and respect human rights.
France, Turkey and the Gulf states have so far granted official recognition to the new Syrian grouping, and Hague said Britain was inclined to follow suit.
EU member states Germany, Spain, Italy and Poland have also welcomed the formation of the National Coalition, but have stopped short of recognising it as the sole representative of the Syrian people.
More than 39,000 people have died since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime erupted 20 months ago, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
There were more deaths on Saturday.
Two rebels were killed in fighting in Aleppo, the Observatory said, while a car bomb exploded in Liramun in the northwest of the city, and nearby areas were shelled.
Mortar rounds meanwhile struck Deir al-Asafir, an area south of Damascus where rebels and regime forces have clashed.
Regime troops in the capital cut a number of roads and blocked off areas, preventing residents from leaving, and warplanes overflew the Eastern Ghouta region near Damascus.
In eastern Syria, a rebel was killed in fighting in Deir Ezzor, while areas of the Old City neighbourhood of the central city of Homs were shelled, said the Britain-based group.
On Friday, 106 people — 42 soldiers, 42 civilians and 22 rebels — were killed in violence across Syria, according to the Observatory.