By David Brunnstrom and Justyna Pawlak
LUXEMBOURG (Reuters) - The European Union Monday welcomed a newly formed Syrian opposition council, but stopped short of any call to recognize the body, which is seeking international support for a six-month-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.
A statement agreed by EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg welcomed moves by Syria's political opposition in Syria to unite and urged the international community to do likewise.
"The EU notes the creation of the Syrian National Council as a positive step forward," it said, while condemning the "brutal repression led by the Syrian regime against its population."
Syria threatened Sunday to retaliate against any country that formally recognized the opposition council.
In Stockholm, a member of the Syrian National Council, formed in Istanbul on October 2, said the group wants to be recognized internationally as representative of Assad's opponents, but has no plan to be an alternative government.
"Our role ends with the fall of this regime," Abdulbaset Sieda, a Swedish-based member of the council's executive committee, told a news conference, saying that discussions would then be held about future elections and broadening democracy.
The council includes academics, grassroots activists, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Damascus Declaration, the main grouping of established opposition figures.
While some of Assad's Western critics, including the United States and France, have welcomed formation of the council, they have not embraced it diplomatically or offered military help as they did the Libyan rebels who later overthrew Muammar Gaddafi.
"I think we will have to find out a bit more yet," EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said before the meeting. "We need to find out more and decide what we are going to do."
"I think we have been consistent in wanting to see significant change in Syria. The number of people who have died there is terrible. The continued approach of the government to repress people is awful. We've been working closely with our colleagues in the (United Nations) Security Council and with Turkey now in trying to put the pressure on."
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, whose country was the first EU state to recognize the Libyan interim council, said the Syrian body did not "have the same structure."
"So we are not at the stage of recognition," he told reporters. "But I believe we have to get to know them better and get a better idea of their intentions."
The United Nations says 2,900 people have been killed in Assad's crackdown on mainly peaceful protests. The Syrian leadership blames armed groups backed by foreign powers for the violence, saying 1,100 members of the security forces have been killed since the unrest broke out in March.
VIOLENCE MUST STOP
British Foreign Secretary William Hague did not directly reply when asked if EU states should recognize the council, but said he had met some opposition activists and continued to call on the government to end the violence.
"That is the immediate priority," he said. "The EU as a whole and member states will want to appeal for (an end to violence). Of course we can't directly intervene."
Juppe said France wanted to have contacts with the opposition, adding: "We are pleased to see the opposition has organized."
Asked about recognizing the council, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said: "We are talking to them, as we are talking to a lot of other people who have the ability to influence events in Syria. We will be discussing that further today."
Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal said the EU should do everything in terms of sanctions to force Assad to step down.
"We know that the sanctions up until now on the part of the European Union are working," he said. "We think that if that is the case we should look for more sanctions and especially for a rigorous implementation of the sanctions at hand."
Officials and diplomats said a committee was expected on Monday to endorse an agreement in principle to add the Commercial Bank of Syria to a sanctions list, which would bar Europeans from doing business with it and freeze its assets in Europe once the move is adopted later in the week.
EU officials say the aim, combined with already adopted sanctions on Syria's oil industry, is to block the government's access to funds, but the effect has been blunted by the decision by Russia and China to block a Western-backed U.N. Security Council resolution that could have led to broader sanctions.
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Alistair Lyon)
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