PRESIDENT Barack Obama proclaimed Syria’s newly reorganised opposition as the ‘legitimate’ representative of the nation’s people on Tuesday, in the most significant US intervention in a brutal imperialist-imposed war.
As Washington cranked up pressure on President Bashar al-Assad, the Obama administration also blacklisted the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front, which officials here fear seeks to establish a Caliphate in Syria.
The blacklisting is a US effort to disguise the fact that 90 per cent of their Syrian allies are Islamists and that most of them support the recent assassination of the US ambassador in Libya
It was another day of imperialist-imposed and organised carnage inside Syria, as scores of civilians from Assay minority sect were reported killed by Islamists, in what appeared to be the largest-scale murder attacks yet against the Alawites.
Many believe that the Christian communities will be next to suffer massacres at the hands of the allies of the US and the Saudi and Qatari mercenaries.
The United States has edged slowly towards recognising the opposition Syrian National Coalition, because the Assad regime has refused to even consider giving way and leaving the country.
The US move follows similar action by France, Britain, Turkey and the Gulf Cooperation Council regional grouping.
The process was slowed by concerns that the Coalition, recently reconstituted under US pressure, did not represent all of Syrian society, had links to extremists, and did not subscribe to democratic principles.
But such concerns were not allowed to dominate, and were dismissed, as well as charges that more US, UK intervention would be responsible for the deaths of thousands more Syrians.
‘We have made a decision that the Syrian opposition coalition is now inclusive enough, is reflective and representative enough of the Syrian population, that we consider them the legitimate representative of the Syrian people,’ Obama told ABC News in an interview.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had been expected to make the announcement at a Friends of the Syrian People meeting in Marrakesh, Morocco, on Wednesday but could not travel owing to illness.
Washington has so far officially only provided humanitarian, non-lethal aid to the rebels, officially declining to send arms, a position White House spokesman Carney reiterated on Tuesday.
It has relied on Saudi Arabia and Qatar to supply the ‘rebels’ with US weaponry.
The US administration made clear that it was differentiating between the Council and Al-Nusra, which it sees as having extreme tendencies.
It tried to pretend that the Islamic extremists were a tiny minority of the pro-NATO fighters.
‘There is a small element of those that oppose the Assad regime, that in fact are affiliated with Al-Qaeda in Iraq and we have designated them, Al-Nusra, as a terrorist organisation,’ Obama said in the interview.
Declaring Al-Nusra a terrorist group freezes any assets under US jurisdiction and bans Americans from any transactions with it. US officials also said the move would make sure aid reaches the right hands, meaning that the Saudis and Qataris would be arming Al-Nusra.
Countries wanting to support the opposition need to ensure they are helping ‘those opposition groups who truly have the best interest of Syria and Syrians in mind,’ State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
Though reportedly a minority, Al-Nusra has been one of the most effective rebel groups fighting to overthrow Assad, raising some concerns that hardline extremists are hijacking the 21-month-old revolt.
The front’s fighters, many of them jihadist volunteers, from around the Islamic world.
Al-Nusra has also claimed responsibility for recent suicide bombings that killed scores of people, and has said it hopes to replace the Assad family’s four-decade hold on power with a strict Islamic state.
The strike on Alawites came in car bomb attacks in the village of Aqrab in the central province of Hama and killed or wounded at least 125 civilians.
‘This was be the largest-scale revenge attack against Alawites,’ members of a Shiite sect in Sunni-majority Syria said.
Aqrab is near Houla, a majority Sunni Muslim village where 108 people, including 49 children and 34 women, were massacred on May 25.
Washington also on Tuesday said it was now less concerned than last week that Assad could resort to using chemical weapons stockpiles against rebels.
US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said Syria had not taken any new steps in recent days that signal a readiness to use its arsenal.
‘At this point the intelligence has really kind of levelled off.
‘We haven’t seen anything new indicating any aggressive steps to move forward in that way,’ Panetta told reporters aboard his plane before landing in Kuwait.
International military chiefs have met in London to discuss the Syria conflict, a diplomatic source said after a media report that they discussed plans to train rebels and give air and naval support.
A British diplomatic source confirmed that the military leaders had held talks, but played down the idea that they discussed military intervention against the Assad regime.
‘As far as I know they didn’t explore options in any detail, certainly they didn’t explore options for military intervention,’ the diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
Inside Syria, and apart from the Aqrab attack, at least 68 people were killed on Tuesday, the Observatory said.
With the total death toll from Syria’s agony now topping 42,000, according to the Observatory’s figures, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said the number of Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries and the wider Arab world had now passed half a million.
l The US military will retain a ‘strong presence’ in the Middle East despite a strategic shift to Asia, Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said on Tuesday during a visit to Kuwait.
The United States plans to deploy a majority of its naval fleet to the Asia-Pacific along with other advanced weaponry but Panetta insisted that a robust American force would remain in place in the Middle East.
Panetta spoke to reporters aboard his plane travelling to Kuwait City on a two-day visit to discuss bolstering security ties amid tumult in the region and tensions with Iran.
‘Let me assure you that the United States is strong enough that we can maintain a strong presence in the Middle East as well as in the Pacific,’ he said.
He acknowledged that the United States had to be ‘flexible’ in managing its forces in a more austere era and that it would have only one aircraft carrier in the Middle East for about two months to allow for maintenance work on another carrier, the USS Nimitz.
The American military still had nearly 50,000 troops and warships positioned across the region, he said.
‘But in the end, I am very confident that we’re going to be able to maintain the ships and forces we need in order to respond to any contingency.’
Panetta’s visit coincides with a wave of protests in the oil-rich Gulf state, with thousands of opposition demonstrators demanding fresh elections due to a bitter dispute over amendments to the country’s electoral law.