BRUSSELS (AP) — The newly formed Syrian opposition coalition is likely to get an offering of support from the European Union on Monday, an EU official said, in what would be a significant vote of confidence for a movement struggling to prove its credibility and gain the trust of the country's factions.
Such a move would not amount to official diplomatic recognition because that can only be decided by each EU country individually. But if the bloc's 27 foreign ministers meeting in Brussels decide that the coalition is a legitimate voice for Syria's people it would be a major step forward in the West's acceptance of the group.
The international support comes at a difficult time for the new coalition, as events in Syria are moving fast and alliances are fluid. Late Sunday, a group of extremist Islamist factions in Syria rejected the new opposition coalition, saying in a video statement they have formed an "Islamic state" in the embattled city of Aleppo to underline that they want nothing to do with the Western-backed bloc.
Few outsiders can be sure of exactly who is in the coalition of disparate opposition groups seeking to topple the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, and whether offering it support could be a cause for future regret.
"The nature of the opposition is still pretty fragmented," said Malcolm Chalmers, a professor of defense and foreign policy at King's College in London. "There are fears of what the opposition regime would look like. There is a strong wish that we get a regime that is broadly representative rather than sectarian with extreme agendas that the West would not support."
An insider with knowledge of the talks told The Associated Press that the EU was likely to back the fledgling coalition, speaking on condition of anonymity in order to discuss ongoing closed-door talks.
So far, France has been the only Western nation to extend diplomatic recognition to the coalition. The U.K. has indicated it will consider the issue later this week.
"I hope this meeting here today will give a boost to that opposition, to the coalition, and will appreciate that they have made a big step forward," British Foreign Secretary William Hague said on his way into the meeting. "I will speak about the question of recognition when I talk to the House of Commons later this week."
Some EU members have suggested arming the Syrian opposition, but officials said the idea is likely to get little traction in the meeting Monday. A senior EU official said last week that shipping weapons to the Syrian opposition while keeping an embargo against the Assad regime in place would be very difficult to enforce.
Currently, the EU has an embargo prohibiting the shipment of arms into Syria. An EU official said Monday that embargo is likely to be renewed in full later this week.
Meanwhile, the EU's foreign policy chief joined the chorus of international figures expressing concern about violence elsewhere in the Middle East, deploring the mounting death toll in the Gaza conflict.
Speaking before the foreign ministers meeting, Catherine Ashton said rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel needed to stop.
"What we have to do is to find ... a solution that brings security to the region," Ashton said.
Israeli forces are attacking Gaza in an effort to stop the militant rocket fire, and scores of Palestinians and three Israeli civilians have been killed in the conflict.
Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt said the most important thing is to arrange an immediate cease-fire.
"Then, we must look at the wider and deeper issues," he said. "This is the second Gaza war in a few years. We can't wait for the third and fourth."
The EU ministers also discussed how to provide assistance to the West African force that is scheduled to help Mali's tenuous government wrest control of the country's vast north that was seized by al-Qaida-linked fighters more than six months ago.
The ministers said they welcomed undertakings by member states to contribute to the training mission and would submit these plans to EU leaders for their approval at a summit next month. Several EU members have expressed their readiness to help train the Malian army so it can retake the north.
The United States is also worried that the Sahel region of northeastern Mali could become a terrorist haven, and is pushing for international action in the region.
Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report. Don Melvin can be reached at http://twitter.com/Don_Melvin .