France urges protection zone in Syria

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France yesterday called for a "securitised zone" to protect civilians in Syria, the first time a Western power has suggested international intervention on the ground in the eight-month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

The French Foreign Minister, Alain Juppé, also described Syria's exiled opposition, the Syrian National Council (SNC), as "the legitimate partner with which we want to work", the biggest international endorsement yet for a nascent opposition body that seeks Mr Assad's overthrow.

Asked after a meeting with the SNC if a humanitarian corridor was an option for Syria, Mr Juppé said: "It is a point which we have examined and I will propose putting it on the agenda of the next European Council.

"If it is possible to have a humanitarian dimension for a securitised zone to protect civilians, that then is a question which has to be studied by the European Union on the one side and the Arab League on the other side."

Until now, Western countries have imposed economic sanctions on Syria but have shown no appetite for intervention on the ground.

Inside Syria yesterday, regime forces killed two villagers in an agricultural area that has served as a supply line for defectors, and also clamped down on a Damascus suburb where loyalist troops have been attacked, activists and residents said. An armoured column entered the town of Hayaleen and surrounding villages on the al-Ghab plain. Troops fired machine guns and set fire to several houses after arresting around 100 people.