By BRADLEY KLAPPER and MATTHEW PENNINGTON, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration expressed opposition to French President Francoise Hollande's call for the Syrian opposition to quickly form a provisional government, saying it was premature when the opponents to Syrian President Bashar Assad are still so fractured.
American officials said Monday the French announcement wasn't coordinated with other nations that have been working on a diplomatic solution to the civil war and that the U.S. wouldn't echo Hollande's proposal any time soon.
The administration on Monday also decried the death of more than 300 people in Damascus' suburbs over the weekend, including civilians killed at point-blank range and others as they were lining up to buy bread.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said 150 people were killed in a single location in fighting on the outskirts of the Syrian capital. She said some were killed point-blank "in the most brutal way at the hands of the regime," and that the U.S. death toll was based on information from its contacts within the Arab country.
Syrian opposition activists say as many as 600 people were killed by government forces in the Damascus suburb of Daraya. The violence was remarkable even after 18 months of government repression and civil warfare that has killed more than 20,000 people, according to activists.
Despite the escalating violence, Nuland did not endorse Hollande's proposal in what was billed as a major foreign policy address for the fractured Syrian opposition to form a provisional government. Hollande said France would be prepared to recognize that government over the Assad's regime.
"It's a matter for them to decide if and when they may be prepared to start naming folks," Nuland told reporters in Washington.
American officials called it premature to speak about a provisional government when Syria's fractured opposition hasn't even agreed yet on a transition plan. And they cited persistent disagreements among the Syrian National Council and rival opposition groups, and between Syrian opposition figures campaigning outside the country and rebels fighting the Assad regime on the front line.
"We're nowhere near that yet," one U.S. official said.
Officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak publicly on the matter. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
Nuland said the U.S. has been encouraging the opposition inside and outside Syria to collaborate on how they would implement a transition plan put forward at a meeting in Cairo in July, and who might be in a transitional government.
She also warned about increasing numbers of Syrian refugees fleeing to Turkey, Jordan and other neighboring states. Turkey has become more open to receiving international help, particularly from the U.N., for handling the influx of refugees, she said. They now number 80,000 there and are expected to surpass 100,000 soon.
She said the U.S. has no information on whether a helicopter that came down in Damascus on Monday was shot down or suffered mechanical failure. It's unclear if Syrian rebels have shoulder-launched ground-to-air missiles that can be used to down aircraft.
The U.S. has expressed concerns about the proliferation of the shoulder-launched missiles in places such as Libya, where Moammar Gadhafi's stockpiles were looted during the country's civil war last year.
Despite fears of extremists getting their hands on such weapons in Syria, Nuland stressed that the "Syrian opposition that is facing some of the most egregious and horrific violence we've seen exacted on a civilian population anywhere."