U.S. backs Syria rebel group

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WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama declared Syria's main opposition group the sole "legitimate representative" of its country's people Tuesday, deeming the move "a big step" in the international efforts to end President Bashar Assad's embattled regime.

Obama said the newly formed Syrian Opposition Council "is now inclusive enough" to be granted the elevated status, which paves the way for greater U.S. support for the organization.

"Obviously, with that recognition comes responsibilities," Obama told ABC News. "To make sure that they organize themselves effectively, that they are representative of all the parties, that they commit themselves to a political transition that respects women's rights and minority rights."

Recognition of the council brings the United States in line with Britain, France and several of America's Arab allies, which took the same step shortly after the body was created at a meeting of opposition representatives in Qatar last month.

Obama's announcement follows his administration's blacklisting of a militant rebel group with links to al-Qaida. That step is aimed at blunting the influence of extremists amid fears that the regime may use or lose control of its stockpile of chemical weapons.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the Syrian government seems to have slowed preparations for the possible use of chemical weapons against rebel forces.

In Syria, rebels, including Islamic extremists, took full control of a sprawling military base Tuesday after a bloody two-day battle that killed 35 soldiers, activists said.

In other violence, dozens of people were reported injured or killed in Aqrab, a village in central Hama province, in a series of explosions. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported the bloodshed, citing activists in the area. -- AP

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