Turkey and the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council also recognized the group as the representative of the Syrian people.
But the United States and Italy have been somewhat less forthcoming. President Barack Obama has said the U.S. needed more time and wanted to make sure that the group ‘‘is committed to a democratic Syria, an inclusive Syria, a moderate Syria.’’
He also says the U.S. isn’t considering sending weapons to the opposition because of concerns the arms might fall into the hands of extremists.
Italy took a similar view, recognizing the opposition as legitimate but stopping there.
On Monday, European Union foreign ministers gave the bloc a vote of confidence but stopped short of offering official diplomatic recognition because that can only be decided by each member country individually. Still, the endorsement of the coalition as a legitimate voice for Syria’s people represents a major step forward in Western acceptance for the group.
‘‘The EU considers them legitimate representatives of the aspirations of the Syrian people,’’ the bloc’s 27 foreign ministers said in a statement at the end of their monthly meeting in Brussels.
Some EU members have suggested arming the Syrian opposition, but the idea has gotten little traction.
Currently, the EU has an embargo prohibiting the shipment of arms into Syria, which is likely to be renewed later this week. A senior EU official said last week that shipping weapons to Syrian rebels while keeping an embargo against the Assad regime in place would be difficult to enforce.
The violence in Syria threatens to inflame an already combustible region. The fighting already has already spilled into Israel, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.
Germany’s defense minister said Monday he expects Turkey to make a formal request to NATO for Patriot missiles to bolster anti-aircraft defenses along the border with Syria.
‘‘It may be — I expect it — that there will be a request by the Turkish government to NATO today for Patriot missiles to be stationed on the Turkish border,’’ Thomas de Maiziere said ahead of the EU meeting.
NATO’s Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said no such request had been received yet from Ankara, but that if it was it would be considered ‘‘as a matter of urgency.’’
‘‘The situation along the Syrian-Turkish border is of great concern,’’ Fogh Rasmussen said as he arrived for a meeting with the European Union’s foreign and defense ministers. ‘‘We have all plans in place to defend and protect Turkey if needed.’’
Although the civil war has left Assad isolated internationally, Iran has stuck by Damascus.
Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency said Monday that Tehran has started building a $10 billion natural gas pipeline to Syria as part of efforts to boost Iran’s energy sector, which has been battered by international sanctions.
The 1,500-kilometer (900-mile) pipeline will pass through Iraq before reaching Syria.
Associated Press writers Barbara Surk in Beirut, Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, Maamoun Youssef in Cairo, Matthew Lee in Washington and Slobodan Lekic and Don Melvin in Brussels contributed to this report.