France recognises new Syrian opposition coalition

France has become the first European country to recognize the newly formed Syrian opposition coalition and says it could consider arming the rebels.

French President Francois Hollande said Tuesday that the newly united rebel coalition is the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people and a future government of a democratic Syria.

Mr. Hollande said France will look at the question of selling weapons to the rebels as soon as the coalition forms a transitional government.

The six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council recognized the rebel group Monday.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner called the coalition a legitimate representative of the Syrian people. But he said the United States wants to see how it organizes itself and whether it proves to also be an effective representative.

Other European nations and the Arab League have also said they support the new coalition, but are not ready to give full recognition.

The United States and Europe have been reluctant to arm Syrian rebels, saying the rebels have been too disorganized. They also fear that weapons could fall into the hands of Islamic militants.

Syrian opposition members agreed at a meeting Sunday in Doha to form the new coalition to unite the various opposition groups fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad.

Human Rights Watch is calling on the new coalition to send a clear message to the rebels that they must follow human rights law. It also urges those sending money or weapons to the rebels express the same expectations.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said fighting and shelling in and around Damascus killed at least 41 people Tuesday, mostly civilians.