Canada boosts aid for Syrian refugees, but not yet ready to recognize opposition

OTTAWA - Canada will contribute another $15 million in humanitarian aid to help Syria's neighbours cope with the overflow of hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the country's civil war.

But Canada will wait before following some of its major allies in formally conferring recognition on the Syrian opposition.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird announced the extra funds at a large international meeting in Morocco with the Syrian opposition.

Canada will give Jordan an additional $5 million on top of the $6.5 million Baird announced on a trip to the country earlier this year.

Canada also contributed another $10 million to the international agencies working on the Syrian refugee crisis, bringing its total contribution to $22 million.

Baird also said the government would give Jordan $1.5 million worth of protective personal equipment to guard against a potential chemical or biological weapons attack in Syria.

Baird echoed the growing global concern that Syrian President Bashar Assad might resort to using chemical weapons against his own people as the 21-month popular uprising against his regime continues.

"We remain deeply concerned about the potential loss of control over chemical weapons stockpiles, missiles, (portable air-defence systems) and other conventional weapons, which could pose a wider global and regional threat," Baird told the Moroccan conference in a prepared text of his speech.

"But we are not only concerned; we are taking concrete actions to prepare for the worst."

As was expected, Canada did not join the U.S., Europe and other allies in recognizing the new opposition as the sole legitimate representatives of the Syrian people to succeed the Assad regime.

Baird said he had a good meeting with the new chairman of the opposition council and was impressed.

But he said Canada has two outstanding issues before it recognizes the opposition: that all groups such as Kurds, Christians, Sunni and Shiite Muslims have a place in Syria's future, and that radical Jihadists within the rebels are weeded out.

"These will be ongoing challenges in an increasingly worrying environment," said Baird.

"Canada is concerned by the rise in terrorist activity inside Syria and signs of growing sectarianism fuelled by those who wish to sow disunity rather than unity and who seek exclusivity rather than inclusiveness."

One of the challenges associated with recognizing the newly formed Syrian National Coalition was underscored earlier this week when the Obama administration designated the rebel militia, Jabhat al-Nusra a terrorist organization.

"At the end of the day, it is the Syrian people themselves who will determine the future path for their country. Canada is very encouraged by efforts to unite the Syrian opposition," said Baird.

"The formation of the Syrian National Coalition of Opposition and Revolutionary Forces was a great step forward; I want to congratulate them for their courage."

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version had an incorrect time frame for the uprising.