France called on the Syrian opposition to form a provisional government in anticipation of the fall of President Bashar al-Assad as fighting intensified in and around the capital.
Syrian government forces killed 231 people across the country yesterday including 148 in Damascus and its suburbs, the opposition Local Coordination Committees said in an e-mailed statement. Syrian rebels said yesterday they shot down a helicopter and a MiG-21 warplane. Syrian military jets bombed the Damascus neighborhoods of Qadam, Assali and Tadhamon overnight, Al Arabiya television reported, citing activists.
Western nations are pressing the Syrian opposition to be ready to fill the void if Assad’s rule collapses. French President Francois Hollande said yesterday that he favors establishing liberated zones in Syria and that the opposition should form a transitional government.
“France asks the Syrian opposition to constitute a provisional government that is inclusive, representative, that can become the legitimate representative of the new Syria,” Hollande said in a speech in Paris to his nation’s ambassadors. “France would recognize the provisional government once it has been formed.”
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland didn’t endorse the French call for a provisional government. She said it is up to the Syrian opposition to decide when it is ready to take that step and called for any such development to be “based on a solid, democratic plan” that reflects the interests of a “broad cross-section” of Syrians.
The Syrian Revolution General Commission’s website said yesterday that rebels shot down a government helicopter over Damascus. While the crash was confirmed by state television, the broadcaster gave no details. The BBC and Al Arabiya showed video of an aircraft falling to the ground in flames.
The rebel Free Syrian Army said it shot down a MiG-21 jet fighter yesterday over Idlib province, Al Jazeera television reported, citing rebels of the al-Haq brigade. There was no independent confirmation of the rebel group’s claim, posted on its Facebook page, that it captured the pilot.
Assad’s forces have used helicopter gunships, warplanes and artillery in a bid to push anti-government fighters out of Damascus and Aleppo, the country’s most populous city.
‘Bad to Worse’
Egyptian security forces have arrested a Syrian national who threatened to blow up the Arab League’s headquarters in Cairo, Egypt’s official Middle East News Agency said. The man said his car, parked in front of the league’s office, was laden with explosives and threatened to detonate them if the group doesn’t condemn Assad, the news agency said. The man had recently been told his parents were killed in Syria during a battle between government and opposition forces, MENA said.
The situation in Syria is going from “bad to worse,” Arab League Secretary-General Nabil el-Arabi was cited as saying Aug. 26 by MENA.
The bloodiest day since the uprising began 17 months ago was Aug. 25, when 440 people were reported dead by the opposition Local Coordination Committees. More than 23,000 lives have been lost during the uprising, the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates.
The Syrian Observatory and the LCC, a network of activists within the country, are among several groups opposed to Assad’s government that offer casualty numbers that can’t be independently verified.
Assad vowed Aug. 26 to defeat the rebels “no matter the cost” and reiterated his assertion that a “foreign plot” was behind the violence, according to the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency.
Assad and most top officials come from the Alawite sect, affiliated with Shiite Islam, while the majority of Syria’s population and many leaders of the armed uprising are Sunni.
The number of refugees who have fled Syria has exceeded 202,000, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said on Aug. 24. Registered refugees included 61,000 in Jordan, 51,000 in Lebanon, 16,000 in Iraq and 74,000 in Turkey, it said, though many other Syrians fled without registering.