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The United States's formal recognition of a coalition of Syrian opposition groups as the legitimate representative of the country's people marks a watershed moment in the bloody civil war. On the eve of an international conference in Marrakech, President Barack Obama said the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces was now inclusive, reflective and representative enough for the US to take this "big step". The move is likely to bolster the morale of the rebels, but it also seeks to isolate extremist factions, such as Jabhat al-Nusra, a militant group Washington has designated a terrorist organisation. However, it does not come with a commitment to offer military support to the rebels, keeping the US decidedly on the sidelines of the conflict.
Although some criticise the US's delayed and restrained action for being too little too late, it puts significant pressure on President Bashar al-Assad to accept his inevitable defeat. The death toll has crossed 40,000 according to independent observers, and fighting in Damascus, Assad's stronghold, has intensified. Between Nato's deployment of patriot missile systems along the Turkish border and US intelligence reports that activity at Syria's chemical weapon stockpiles escalated earlier this month, the international community has no choice but to respond with greater urgency. Britain, France, Turkey and the Gulf Cooperation Council had already recognised the National Coalition as Syria's political representative last month, and some Gulf states, notably Qatar and Saudi Arabia, have provided rebel fighters with arms.