BEIRUT — France’s president urged the Syrian opposition movement Monday to create a provisional government and vowed to extend official recognition once it was formed.
The statement by the French president, Francois Hollande, represented the furthest any Western leader had gone in pressuring the embattled government of President Bashar Assad of Syria. While the United States, Britain and other Western countries have called on Assad to resign and have supported the opposition with nonlethal aid, they have not explicitly stated they would recognize a provisional government formed by Assad’s array of political enemies.
Hollande’s statement, made during an annual speech to French diplomats in Paris, came as new violence convulsed Syria, including the possible rebel destruction of a Syrian helicopter gunship and further signs of a rush to the borders by thousands of people seeking safe haven from the 18-month conflict.
“France asks the Syrian opposition to form a provisional government — inclusive and representative — that can become the legitimate representative of the new Syria,” Hollande was quoted by news agencies as saying during the speech at the Elysee Palace. “France will recognize the provisional government of Syria once it is formed.”
The French leader spoke hours after Syrian anti-government fighters said they had downed a government helicopter during fierce fighting in the eastern suburbs of Damascus. Syrian state television confirmed that a helicopter had crashed in the neighborhood of Qaboun, without detailing the cause.
In an unverified video posted on the Internet on Monday purporting to show the crash, flames appear around a falling helicopter, before it bursts into a fireball and plummets to the ground. The Athar brigade, a rebel group, claimed responsibility, saying in a statement that the helicopter had been shot down “with the participation of other brigades.”
Activist groups said the helicopter had been used in a government assault on rebel fighters in Jobar, a patch of suburbs outside Damascus, the capital. After the helicopter went down Monday, activists said government forces had started shelling the area near the crash site.
On the Syria border with Turkey, a backup of Syrians trying to flee appeared to be growing quickly, with nearly 10,000 massed on the Syrian side, a Turkish government official reported. The Turks have said they are prepared to accommodate a maximum of 100,000 Syrians.