On the political front, officials in Washington indicated that the Obama administration was moving toward recognition of a newly formed opposition coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. The announcement could come as early as two weeks from now, when the Friends of Syria group holds a meeting in Morocco. Britain, France, Turkey and other nations have already recognized the new Syrian National Coalition.
But officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal policy deliberations, said they foresaw no imminent change in the Obama administration’s refusal to help arm the rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
NATO foreign ministers meeting next week in Brussels are expected to approve a request by Turkey for Patriot missile batteries to defend against cross-
border Syrian fire, which has occurred on several occasions.
The Patriot systems, however, are “not designed to change the situation inside Syria,” a senior NATO official said, and would not be deployed in a mode that would allow them to be part of a no-fly zone to protect Syrian communities from government aircraft.
Military personnel from the United States, the Netherlands and Germany — the three NATO countries with Patriot capabilities — are in Turkey examining potential sites for what the official said would be no more than a handful of batteries. The Patriot systems will operate under NATO command.
As Assad’s forces tried to push rebel fighters back from roads around the Damascus airport, at least two of what are only a handful of commercial airlines flying to the Syrian capital announced that they were suspending operations there. Egypt Air said its regular flights to Damascus would stop “until further notice,” and Emirates airline canceled flights.
In an additional sign that the rebels may be gaining momentum, opposition forces have taken control of at least a half-dozen government bases in the past week. One group announced the capture of two more bases Thursday.
“It appears as though the opposition in Syria is now capable of holding ground and that they are better equipped and more able to bring the fight to the government forces,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday evening.
Administration officials said they are closely watching a meeting of the Syrian National Coalition taking place in Cairo. They said they had laid out several steps for the group to take before U.S. recognition would be granted.
Clinton said no decisions have been made, but “we consider them on an almost daily basis.”