Smoke rises after shells fired by the Syrian army explode in the Syrian village of Bariqa
GCC recognises Syria Coalition Fighting rages

CAIRO, Nov 12, (Agencies): The six Gulf states recognised a newly formed opposition bloc as the Syrian people’s legitimate representative on Monday, as border violence stoked fears of a spillover of Syria’s 20-month conflict.
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) move came a year to the day after the Arab League suspended Syria’s membership, and as the National Coalition met Arab foreign ministers in Cairo buoyed by the hard-won unity deal.
Deadly fighting flared, meanwhile, on Syria’s border with Turkey and Israel fired across the ceasefire line on the Golan Heights for a second day, scoring direct hits on the source of a mortar round that struck the Israeli-occupied part of the territory.
The GCC members — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates — became the first to recognise the opposition coalition.
“The states of the council announce recognising the National Coalition... as the legitimate representative of the brotherly Syrian people,” GCC chief Abdullatif al-Zayani said.
The oil-rich bloc would support the coalition “in order to achieve the aspirations of the Syrian people in hope that this will be a step towards a quick political transfer of power,” Zayani said.
Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem Al-Thani, whose government hosted marathon four-day talks that culminated in Sunday’s unity deal, said earlier that he would seek “full recognition” of the coalition.
His minister of state for foreign affairs, Khaled al-Attiya, said recognition would remove any obstacles to the opposition securing arms for rebel fighters.
The National Coalition’s newly installed leader, Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, told Al-Jazeera television it already had promises of weapons, but did not say from whom.
Under Sunday’s deal, the opposition agreed to establish a new supreme military council to take overall command of rebel groups on the ground and address US concerns that weapons have been reaching jihadist groups that are threatening to hijack the uprising.
Washington swiftly declared its backing for the new structure.
“We look forward to supporting the National Coalition as it charts a course toward the end of Assad’s bloody rule and the start of the peaceful, just, democratic future that all the people of Syria deserve,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.
Traditional Damascus ally Moscow gave a cooler response.
It said “such alliances must act based on a platform of peaceful regulation of the conflict by Syrians themselves, without interference” and urged the opposition to drop its stated refusal to negotiate with the regime.
The head of Lebanon’s Shiite militia Hezbollah, likewise an ally of Damascus, also criticised the National Coalition’s rejection of any political solution. It was “dangerous” and would led to “more destruction,” said Hassan Nasrallah.
Fanning international concerns about the potential of a spillover, the Israeli army targeted the source of new mortar fire into the part of the Golan it occupies and reported “direct hits” on Monday.
On Sunday, an Israeli warning shot — its first across the UN-monitored ceasefire line since the 1973 Middle East war — left UN chief Ban Ki-moon “deeply concerned by the potential for escalation,” his spokesman said.
Syrian warplanes tore along the Turkish frontier on Monday and bombed the rebel-held town of Ras al-Ain just metres (yards) inside the border, sending scores of civilians scrambling for safety into Turkey.
The Local Coordination Committees, a Syrian grassroots opposition group, said 16 people had died in the air strikes. The pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll at 12, including seven Islamist militant fighters.
Helicopters also strafed targets near Ras al-Ain, which fell to rebels on Thursday during an advance into Syria’s mixed Arab and Kurdish northeast.
The offensive has caused some of the biggest refugee movements since the Syrian conflict began nearly 20 months ago.
Though Turkey is reluctant to be drawn into a regional conflict, the proximity of Monday’s bombing raids marked a fresh test of its pledge to defend itself from any violation of its territory or any spillover of violence from Syria.
One of the jets struck within metres of the barbed-wire fence that divides Ras al-Ain from the Turkish settlement of Ceylanpinar, sending up plumes of black smoke.
From a vantage point in Turkey close to the border, the warplane appeared at one point to enter Turkish airspace.
At a clinic in Ceylanpinar, doctors tended a small child covered in blood. Anxious residents crowded outside a teahouse, watching the bombing and helicopter.
“I thought the Turkish government said it wouldn’t allow these helicopters to come so close to the border,” said one Turk, who declined to be named. “Look, they’re coming inside our border.”
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the jets did not violate Turkish air space but that Turkey had informed the UN Security Council and NATO about the latest strikes.
“The Assad regime is responsible for what took place. The secondary responsibility sits with the UN Security Council for their inaction,” Davutoglu was quoted as saying by the state-run Anatolian news agency.
Some 9,000 Syrians fled the fighting in Ras al-Ain into Turkey in one 24-hour period last week, swelling to over 120,000 the number of registered refugees in Turkish camps, with winter setting in. Tens of thousands more are unregistered and living in Turkish homes.
Turkey is growing increasingly concerned about security along its border with Syria, in an area of the southeast where Ankara is also fighting an emboldened Kurdish insurgency.
Ankara says it has fired back in retaliation for stray gunfire and mortar rounds landing on Turkish soil, and is talking to its NATO allies about the possible deployment of Patriot surface-to-air missiles near the border.
Turkey says this would be a defensive step, but it could also be a prelude to enforcing a no-fly zone in Syria to limit the reach of President Bashar al-Assad’s air power. Western powers have so far been reluctant to take such a step.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Monday the military alliance would “do what it takes to protect and defend Turkey, our ally”.
“We have all plans in place to make sure that we can protect and defend Turkey and hopefully that way also deter to that attacks on Turkey will not take place,” he said in Prague.
Ras al-Ain, 600 km (375 miles) from Damascus, is part of Syria’s northeastern oil-producing province of Hasaka, home to many of Syria’s million-strong Kurdish minority.
Syrian Kurds have largely stayed away from the anti-Assad revolt and fear that the mostly Sunni Muslim Arab rebels will ignore their aspirations for autonomy in any post-Assad era.
Meanwhile, the parents of US journalist Austin Tice, who has been missing in Syria for three months, said Monday they have not heard from him since he disappeared as they appealed for his release.
Speaking to the media in Beirut, Mark and Debra Tice said they had not been contacted by any party holding the 31-year-old, a contributor to The Washington Post and McClatchy Newspapers, among other publications.
“We know that we — not the only family that — suffering. Austin — silence gave us some understanding about the anxieties and uncertainty that so many families in this part of world face,” his father said.
“We ask whoever is holding Austin to treat him well and keep him safe and return him to us as soon as possible.”
The couple said they believe Austin was reporting from the Damascus suburb of Daraya, which had come under fierce regime shelling, when he went missing on August 13.
The eldest of their seven children, he had been in frequent communication with them via Facebook and other social media after he covertly crossed into Syria from Turkey in May, a common practice due to severe media restrictions imposed by the Damascus regime.
A video of Austin which surfaced September 26 had not yielded any clues about his whereabouts or the suspected kidnappers, they added.
“We really have no idea who is holding our son,” said Mark Tice.
“We have been in touch directly and indirectly with people in the Syrian government. They indicated that they don — know where Austin is.”
US officials believe Tice is being held by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, which is fighting an armed rebellion triggered by a bloody crackdown on democracy protests that broke out in March 2011.
Asked if Washington was investigating, Debra Tice said they had been given “appropriate and amazing support”.
“Our search for our son and our decision to come to this area was driven by the fact that we want to expand our effort and put ourselves in a position of being available for contact,” the mother said.
“Someone knows where our son is and we are beseeching that person to reach out to us,” she added.
Ten journalists have been killed since the Syria uprising erupted, including five foreigners, according to Reporters Without Borders.
Before becoming a war correspondent in January, Tice served as a captain in the US Marines and was deployed on combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.
His parents said the Syrian conflict would remain part of their lives even after their son’s release.
“Sometimes I feel that maybe I have a Middle Eastern heart,” Debra Tice said. “I think that my admiration for the culture and my love for the people and my enjoyment for the food is going to be a lifelong affinity.”
“It — impossible for an experience like this not to stay with you,” her husband added.

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