Syria warns world against recognition of opposition, even as it alienates Kurds (VIDEO)
Damascus faces a double threat: growing international support for the Syrian National Council and the prospect that Syria's Kurd population could join the opposition's ranks.
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Syria's uprising could be poised for major strides forward both internationally, as a result of France's announcement that it will recognize the opposition government, and domestically due to the assassination of a Kurdish opposition leader.
French recognition would be the first international recognition for the Syrian National Council, which was formalized last month, while the death of Mashaal Tammo could push the Kurds, who have previously stayed out of the fray, into the opposition's camp.
Russian newspaper RIA Novosti reports that French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said at a European Union meeting Monday that France welcomed the opposition's attempts to organize and intended to establish relations with the council.
Watch video of President Bashar Assad's government telling Latin American government leaders not to back the opposition movement:
Mr. Juppe's comments came after Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem warned Sunday against any international recognition of the council, threatening "strict measures" against any country that did, The New York Times reports. No country has recognized the council yet.
Mr. Moallem also warned that Syria could opt to stop providing protection for European embassies in Syria in retaliation for attacks on Syrian embassies across Europe over the weekend. Protesters stormed the Syrian embassy in Berlin, as well as Syrian diplomatic missions in Germany and Switzerland, and attempts were thwarted in Vienna and London.
Internationally, Syria retains the support of Russia and China, who both vetoed a recent UN Security Council resolution targeting the Syrian government and are now offering to propose a more "balanced" resolution of their own, according to Lebanon's The Daily Star. Moscow said this weekend that it expects to host delegates from the Syrian National Council later this month in an effort to help along negotiations between the Syrian government and the group.
Meanwhile, Assad could find itself fighting on a new front within Syria.
Syria's Kurds have so far stayed out of the uprising against the regime – which has prevented violence against the oft-persecuted minority group – at least partially out of fear of what might await the Kurds under a government representative of the Syrian majority. But Mr. Tammo's murder, when four masked gunmen broke into his home Friday, could spur Kurds to join the uprising, his son said, according to The New York Times.
… Picking a full-fledged fight with the Kurdish minority would add a new, dangerous facet to a revolt that has ebbed but remained resilient despite a crackdown that, by a United Nations count, has killed more than 2,900.
“My father’s assassination is the screw in the regime’s coffin,” said Fares Tammo, who spoke by telephone from the Kurdish city of Irbil in neighboring Iraq. “They made a big mistake by killing my father.”
Security forces opened fire on Tammo's funeral procession on Saturday after it turned into an anti-regime rally, according to activists. At least five people died. According to the Associated Press, more than 50,000 people turned out for the funeral procession – the largest gathering in the Kurdish northeast since the uprising began.
Crowds pouring into the streets of Qamishli called on Mr. Assad to step down, chanting, "Leave! Leave!"—adopting the cry used by tens of thousands of other Syrian protesters during the uprising. Some demanded Mr. Assad's execution; others ripped down a statue of his late father and predecessor, Hafez Assad.
The government has blamed Tammo's death on "armed terrorist" groups, an accusation it has frequently flings when clashes erupt between regime forces and the opposition. “There are groups carrying out acts of violence in Syria and who have killed a great number of martyrs. The West speaks of a peaceful revolution and does not admit these groups exist but arms them anyhow,” Mr. Moallem said, according to The Daily Star.
According to the Times, the Assad regime held informal negotiations with the Kurds early on in the uprising in order to dissuade them from supporting the opposition. The Kurds – numbering about 20 million, or 10 percent of Syria's population – face discrimination under the regime, but have been tolerated, and Assad has been careful, until now, not to incite the minority group.