* France providing help in three provinces - source
* Source says Paris considering idea of supplying artillery
* French increase contact with Syrian rebels
By John Irish
PARIS, Sept 5 France has started helping
rebel-held parts of Syria so these "liberated zones" can run
themselves and is considering the possibility of supplying heavy
artillery to protect them from government attacks, a diplomatic
source said on Wednesday.
Paris said last week it had identified areas in the north,
south and east that had escaped President Bashar al-Assad's
control, creating a chance for local communities to govern
themselves without residents feeling they had to flee Syria.
"In zones where the regime has lost control, such as Tal
Rifaat (40 km north of Aleppo), which has been free five months,
local revolutionary councils have been set up to help the
population and put in place an administration for these towns so
as to avoid chaos like in Iraq when the regime pulls back," the
The source said France, which last week promised an extra 5
million euros ($6.25 million) to help Syrians, had started
giving aid and money on Friday to five local authorities from
three provinces - Deir al-Zor, Aleppo and Idlib. The areas are
home to about 700,000 people.
Civilians in rebel-held parts of Syria have suffered
frequent deadly air strikes from Assad's forces and questions
have been raised on how Paris proposes to protect civilians and
deter them from fleeing to neighbouring countries.
The source admitted some areas still faced sporadic
bombardments from Syrian forces, but there was little prospect
of them falling back into government hands. He said people in
these areas had asked for anti-aircraft weapons.
"It's a subject that we are working on seriously, but which
has serious and complicated implications. We aren't neglecting
it," the source said.
No-fly zones patrolled by foreign aircraft could protect
rebel-held areas, but there is little chance of securing a U.N.
Security Council mandate for such action, given opposition from
veto-wielding members Russia and China.
European powers have also said they will not supply weapons
to lightly-armed Syrian rebels, who have few answers to attacks
by Assad's planes and helicopter gunships. However, the source
implied there may be a shift in Paris' thinking.
"It's not simple. There have been transfers of weapons which
then ended up in different areas such as in the Sahel so all
that means we need to work seriously, build a relationship of
trust to see who is who so that then an eventual decision can be
taken. It takes time," the source said.
Paris has increased its dialogue with opposition fighters
over the past few weeks, although at this stage no French
military advisers are helping them, the source said, adding that
France was working to develop links between Syria's political
opposition, defectors and rebel fighters.
"It's not especially technical advice, but first and
foremost to get them to speak to each other to agree on working
together," the source said.
"I think we can hope that in days and weeks to come we will
see better co-ordination between these different structures."