PARIS — The French government is providing funds to five revolutionary councils in rebel-held parts of Syria to help them restore water supplies, sanitation, health services, and bakeries, a senior French diplomat, Eric Chevallier, said Thursday.
French diplomats say that France is not supplying funds for weapons or providing weapons to the rebels, which are made up of a number of disparate groups and are separate from the councils.
But they say they are in regular conversation with the rebels, to hear their needs and to encourage them to unite and to protect minorities and democratic values.
France also wants to ensure the support of the armed rebels for the program of aid to the civilian councils, the diplomats say.
The fighting between the forces of the Syrian president, Bashar Assad, and the rebels continued in hot spots around the country, with opposition groups reporting at least 67 people dead.
The groups described heavy shelling and gunfire in the suburbs of Damascus, especially south of the city. In the south, the groups said the storming of a town near the Jordanian border had stirred fears that the Syrian military might seek to dam the torrent of refugees crossing into Jordan.
Chevallier, who was withdrawn as France’s ambassador to Syria in March and is in charge of Syria at the French Foreign Ministry, said in an interview that President Francois Hollande decided last week to start the initiative. Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius mentioned it the next day at the UN Security Council, and ‘‘on Friday morning, we started to deliver this support to these revolutionary councils.’’
It is ‘‘an important but imperfect beginning,’’ he said, to supporting civilian authorities who are filling the vacuum left when Syrian government forces are forced to withdraw. France is not promoting military action to help armed rebels, as it did in Libya, partly because the opposition is so divided and because there is no Security Council resolution mandating the use of military force.
But France, the former colonial power in Syria, is eager to be seen to be on the side of the rebels inside Syria and not just aiding refugees. France is acting more openly than other Western nations, like the United States, which has also been providing some nonlethal assistance, such as radios, to the rebels. Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia are providing military and other aid directly to the rebels.
The five local revolutionary councils in the French program are in cities in three governates in the north and east — Aleppo, Idlib, and Deir al-Zour — where fighting continues to flare but rebels control areas holding 700,000 people. According to the French, the council leaders include a former train driver and a former mathematics professor.
Officials would not be precise about the amount of money involved, but one official suggested that the projection was about $6.3 million, only some of which is being immediately spent.
The French said they were monitoring the use of the funds through trusted Syrians who had been working with the French for more than a year. The diplomats say that the local authorities and fighters have asked for better antiaircraft weapons to protect themselves from the Syrian air force, and that while France has so far refused to provide any lethal military assistance, the requests are being taken seriously.
Hollande has urged the divided Syrian opposition to unite and form a provisional government, promising that France would recognize such a government as legitimate as soon as it can be established.
And Fabius, the foreign minister, has been vocal in denouncing the Assad government as illegitimate.