Participants pose for a picture during the Friends of Syria conference in Marrakesh on December 12, 2012. The Friends of Syria nations opposed to President Bashar al-Assad meet in Morocco to look afresh at how to resolve the deepening crisis and support the new opposition group after it won official US backing. AFP Photo

MARRAKESH: Arab and Western states recognised the National Coalition as the sole representative of Syrians on Wednesday, as the opposition bloc urged the US to review its blacklisting of jihadi rebels.

The declaration issued at a “Friends of Syria” meeting in Morocco coincided with battlefield gains by jihadi's fighting Assad's forces, and a rapidly deteriorating refugee situation as winter sets in.

“Today, full recognition is given to the National Coalition as the sole representative of the Syrian people,” Moroccan Foreign Minister Saad Eddine El Othmani told a news conference after the meeting his government hosted in the southern city of Marrakesh.

The talks on the 21-month conflict rocking Syria brought together representatives from 130 countries, including about 60 ministers, the Syrian opposition and international organisations.

They came just a day after US President Barack Obama endorsed the National Coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, following a similar move by the European Union.

Russia, the Assad regime's most powerful ally, expressed surprise, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov saying “the United States has decided to place all its bets on an armed victory of the National Coalition”.

In its communique, the Friends of Syria again called on Assad to stand down, and stressed his regime would not escape punishment for violations of international law.

It also warned Damascus against using chemical weapons, saying this “would draw a serious response from the international community”.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague described the growing recognition of the National Coalition as “real progress”.

“Then the important thing is to channel more assistance through them, in our case... non-lethal assistance... and then of course we need more humanitarian aid.”

Those at the meeting also called for unimpeded access for humanitarian groups inside Syria.

Under pressure to unite, the Syrian opposition agreed in Doha on November 11 to establish the coalition and group the various rebel forces under a supreme military council.

But jihadi rebels in Aleppo, a key front line in northern Syria, rejected the agreement, saying they want an Islamic state.

Among them was Al-Nusra Front, which the United States blacklisted on Tuesday as a “terrorist” organisation, citing its links to Al-Qaeda in Iraq.

National Coalition chief Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib called on Washington to “re-examine” the move.

“We can have ideological and political differences with certain parties, but the revolutionaries all share the same goal: to overthrow (Assad's) criminal regime”.

Syria's influential Muslim Brotherhood said the US decision to blacklist Al-Nusra was “wrong and hurried” and that “Assad is the only terrorist in Syria”.

Coalition spokesman Yaser Tabbara said the extremist group could be divided into two factions, one that supported the regime and committed acts of terror, and the other that did not, and urged dialogue with the latter.

Tabbara also underlined hopes the Marrakesh meeting would help alleviate a mounting humanitarian crisis and support the needs of “liberated” areas, in terms of salaries and services, which the group estimates at nearly $500 million per month.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters in Marrakesh that “important” financial contributions were announced on Wednesday, including $100 million from Saudi Arabia.

With the total death toll from the civil war now topping 42,000, according to a rights monitor, the UN refugee agency said the number of Syrian refugees who had fled to neighbouring states and North Africa had now passed half a million.

In the latest violence, two bomb blasts killed one person and wounded others in Damascus and a southeastern suburb of Syria's capital, state news agency SANA reported.

Analysts say Assad's regime has been trying to establish a secure perimeter around Damascus at all costs in a bid to be in a position to negotiate a solution to the conflict.

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