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MENAFN - Arab News - 21/01/2013

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Embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad’s mother, seated, is said to have fled to UAE to join her daughter Bushra
(MENAFN - Arab News) The leaders of Syria's main opposition National Coalition will meet in Paris on Jan. 28 along with representatives of countries supporting them, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said yesterday.

Syrian opposition leaders will meet in Paris this month, Fabius said, decrying an "abominable" situation in which he said 100 people a day were being killed in an uprising against President Bashar Assad.

"There will be a meeting of the coalition in Paris in a few days, on the 28th. It's a coalition recognized by more than 100 countries, led by extremely respectable people who simply want to restore democracy in Syria," he said.

Speaking on Europe 1 radio, Fabius provided no other details of the meeting.

Fabius also denied reports that Syria had used chemical weapons in December. "We asked for our intelligence services to check - and not just us - and we're told 'no'," that chemical weapons had not been used, he said.

Fabius downplayed the presence of extremists among the Syrian opposition, saying one of the most prominent such factions, the Al-Nusra front, "came from Iraq and is an ultra-minority group."

Syria's opposition leaders met in Istanbul on Saturday to launch their second bid to form a transitional government. Agreement among the National Coalition, a grouping formed last November, could help address international concern about the risk of Syria disintegrating along ethnic and sectarian lines if Assad falls.

Failure would highlight the divisions in the coalition, formed with Western and Gulf backing in Qatar, and undermine that support.
Prime minister-in-exile

Syria's opposition umbrella group, which most Western and Arab powers opposed to the Damascus regime have recognized, met yesterday in Istanbul in a bid to name a prime minister-in-exile, one of its leaders said.

The Syrian National Coalition was discussing the idea of a government-in-exile but differences have emerged between members of the group, including over who should lead the new executive, an opposition official told AFP.

"A proposal was made to name Riad Hijab but it has run into much criticism," the official said on condition of anonymity.

Hijab is a former prime minister under President Bashar al-Assad who defected in August last year and has since worked closely with Turkish leaders to help restructure the fragmented Syrian opposition.
He is now based in Jordan.

The Istanbul meeting is also scheduled to discuss what the opposition leader said were unkept promises by countries that had pledged diplomatic, military and financial support to the coalition.

The National Council, which is the leading component of the Cairo-based umbrella group, has called for the establishment of an interim government with full executive powers in areas of Syria controlled by the rebels.
The group is also due to meet on Jan. 28 in Paris, French Foreign Minister

Laurent Fabius said Sunday.

Assad's mother in Dubai: Syrians

Anisa Makhluf, the mother of President Bashar Assad, has left the war-torn country and joined her daughter in Dubai, Syrian expatriates in the United Arab Emirates and an activist said yesterday.

Makhluf has been living next to her daughter, Bushra, the only sister of Assad, in Dubai since around 10 days, Syrian expatriates told AFP.

Bushra's husband General Assef Shawkat, an army deputy chief of staff, was killed along with three other high-ranking Syrian officials in a July 18 bombing at the National Security headquarters in Damascus.

In September, Syrian residents in the Gulf emirate said that Bushra had enrolled her five children at a private school in Dubai where she had moved.

Makhluf's "departure from Syria is another indication of Assad losing support even from within his family," said Ayman Abdel Nour, head of the newly-formed group Syrian Christians for Democracy and editor-in-chief of opposition news website all4syria.com.

Analysts say that Assad is increasingly relying on the tightly-knit circle surrounding him, which includes Maher, his only brother still alive and who commands the army's notorious Fourth Brigade.

Assad's two other brothers Bassel and Majd are dead. The embattled president also relies on relatives from his mother's side, analysts say.

A large number of businessmen and wealthy Syrians who had close ties with the regime have fled the deadly bloodshed in Syria to Dubai in the past few months.

More than 60,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in Syria's 22-month conflict, according to the United Nations.

The conflict has sent some 600,000 people fleeing the country, most of them to neighboring countries, according to the world body.

5 die in air raids

Meanwhile five members of one family were killed in air raids on a town in Damascus province yesterday as Syrian warplanes bombarded a battleground town southwest of the capital, a watchdog said.

A couple and their three children were among seven civilians killed in airstrikes on the village of Baraka, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, adding that the toll may rise as a number of people were buried under debris.

The Britain-based watchdog also reported artillery shelling and air raids on Daraya as army reinforcements arrived in the town, strategic for its location next to Al-Mazzeh military airport east of Damascus.


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