Sunday, June 23, 2013

French President Francois Hollande: "moderate rebels must take territory held by radical Islamists"

    Sunday, June 23, 2013   No comments

French President Francois Hollande, whose country has been at the forefront of Western efforts to re-organize and back the opposition, said moderate rebels must take territory held by radical Islamists whose involvement in the conflict, he said, gives Bashar al-Assad a pretext for more violence.

"The opposition needs to win back control of these areas ... ‮‮‮they have fallen into the hands of extremists," Hollande told a news conference in the Doha a day after the Friends of Syria met in the Qatari capital.

"If it seems that extremist groups are present and tomorrow they could be the beneficiaries of a chaotic situation, it will be Bashar al-Assad who will seize on this pretext to continue the massacre," Hollande said.

In Damascus, the Ahrar al-Sham and the Islamist Tawhid al-Asima brigades detonated a car bomb in an area known as Mezze 86, inhabited by members of Assad's Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam that has controlled Syria since the 1960s. Two people were killed, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said.

Rebels also attacked two security compounds in Damascus, killing at least five people, sources in the capital said.

In regional repercussions of the increasingly sectarian Syrian conflict, four Lebanese soldiers were killed in clashes with followers of a Sunni Islamist cleric who is a critic of the role of Hezbollah - the Shi'ite Lebanese group - in giving military support to Assad.

Sources in the city said the fighting broke out when a follower of Sheikh Ahmed al-Assir was arrested at an army roadblock in Sidon, 40 km (28 miles) south of Beirut.

The clashes were followed by fighting between Hezbollah members based in the mostly Sunni city and Assir's followers in which automatic weapons and shoulder fired rockets were used, the sources said.

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