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France urges more support for Syrian opposition

PARIS, Jan 28 (KUNA) -- France has called for more support for the broadly-recognized Syrian National Coalition (SNC) and warned that failure to organise and bolster this support could allow extremists to gain the upper hand in the 22-month conflict.
Speaking at a conference here Monday, where representatives of 50 nations and organisations met with the SNC, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that Syria was facing "collapse" and this presented serious risks that radical, Islamist groups could take advantage of the situation. "In the face of the collapse of a state and society, it is Islamist groups that risk gaining ground if we do not act as we should," Fabius told participants.
The Conference included the "core group" on Syria and also representatives of the European Union.
Kuwait was represented by its Ambassador to Syria, Aziz Al-Behani, who was withdrawn from Damascus along with ambassadors from GCC countries several months ago.
Fabius, who was speaking only two days before a major donor conference on Syria to be held in Kuwait said that it is not possible to "let a revolution that started as a peaceful and democratic protest degenerate into a conflict of militias." France and other nations have expressed growing concern about the increasing presence of radical, militant Islamists from a number of different countries, even from countries well outside the Middle East region.
The SNC, viewed as a federation of moderate forces, is losing support because of the image of Jihadist extremists fighting in Syria and a number of nations are being more circumspect about donating support in these circumstances.
The Kuwaiti-hosted conference, which begins Jan 30, will bring together a much larger participation than the meeting in Paris Monday and diplomats stressed that financial support was not discussed here but would be reserved for the Kuwaiti event.
The conference will be opened by HH the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah and it is hoped that USD 1.5 billion can be raised to help with over 600,00 refugees that have fled the Syrian fighting to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. UN sources said that the number of refugees forced to leave Syria because of the fighting could be over one million by the summer.
UN Secretary-General and senior UN humanitarian staff will also be attending and parallel meetings are taking place with Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs).
Food and medical aid is also needed for close to 1.5 million internally displaced in Syria and local and international humanitarian organisations say they are overwhelmed.
Over 60,000 people have died in Syria since the conflict started in March 2011 when regime forces tried to suppress demonstrators calling for change. (end) jk.gb KUNA 281653 Jan 13NNNN