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France says 'end is near' for Assad

Dec. 16, 2012 7:44 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 25, 2012 5:55 P.M.)
PARIS (Reuters) -- French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Sunday he believed Syrian President Bashar Assad would fall soon and that the new opposition coalition had to be supported to prevent extremists taking control.

"I think that the end is nearing for Bashar Assad ... even the Russians are considering it," Fabius told RFI radio.

France, one of Assad's harshest critics, was the first Western country to recognize the new Syrian National Coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.

Fabius said that the longer Syria's armed rebellion lasted, the more likely it was that it would radicalize and benefit extremists.

Western powers and Arab nations recognized Syria's new opposition coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people at talks in Morocco last week, but feelings about arming the rebels are mixed.

"The best defense against extremists is the Syrian coalition," he said.

"The coalition is uniting the opposition. The problem is ensuring that, once Assad's regime falls, there isn't more chaos. We want to avoid the Iraqi phenomenon," he said.

Many Western powers are reticent about sending weapons because they believe that some rebel groups, notably the al-Nusra Front, have links to al-Qaida and will seek to impose Islamic law if they succeed in toppling Assad.

"The problem is not simply today, but tomorrow. Once Bashar falls, the question will be what happens to these fighters. Will we find them in Mali, or elsewhere?"

In a further sign of an escalation on the ground, Syrian fighter jets bombed the Palestinian Yarmouk camp in Damascus on Sunday, killing at least 25 people sheltering in a mosque in an area where Syrian rebels have been trying to advance into the capital, opposition activists said.

Fabius said this was a worrying development.

"This attack is scandalous, he said. "You have to ask yourself whether President Assad is not trying to inflame the region."
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