Syria's new opposition seeks Arab backing

Tue, Nov 13, 2012, 00:00

Arab League foreign ministers yesterday recognised the newlyformed opposition coalition as the representative of the aspirations of the Syrian people and granted it observer status at the 22-member organisation.

The Syrian National Coalition’s chief Mouaz al-Khatib did not occupy the empty chair vacated by the Syrian government when it was suspended, but its status was enhanced by the granting of full recognition by the Gulf Cooperation Council comprising Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

Ahead of the Cairo meeting, Sheikh Khatib, a moderate Muslim cleric, said the coalition had already been promised arms by unnamed “friends.”

The Arab response to Sheikh Khatib’s call could determine EU reaction to the formation of the coalition since EU and Arab foreign ministers are set to gather at the league’s headquarters today for their first joint meeting on EU-Arab co-operation.

The US declared that it “looks forward to supporting the National Coalition as it charts a course toward the end of [President Bashar al-] Assad’s bloody rule and a start of the peaceful, just, and democratic future that all the people of Syria deserve.”

Britain hailed the establishment of the coalition as “an important milestone in forming a broad and representative opposition that reflects the full diversity of the Syrian people”.

France said it would give the coalition “full support . . . in order for it to become a credible alternative”. China called for a speedy transition, while Russia urged the coalition to seek a “peaceful resolution of the con- flict . . . without external interference, through dialogue”.

Opinion

Syrian information minister Omran al-Zoubi dismissed the effort to unify the opposition. He argued that dissidents who “meet in hotels” abroad are “deluding themselves” if they believe they can oust the government. Louay Hussein, head of the domestic opposition Building the Syrian State movement, rejected any attempt to form a provisional government outside Syria and pledged to mobilise Syrian opinion against such a body.

Neither his group nor the National Co-ordination Board for Democratic Change, the leading internal opposition group, took part in the Qatar conference that gave birth to the coalition. Since unrest erupted 20 months ago, the internal opposition has called for dialogue with the government while the external opposition has demanded foreign intervention and arms for rebel militias.

Sheikh Khatib heads a 60-seat body that includes 22 members of the discredited expatriate Syrian National Council as well as representatives from Syria’s 14 provinces and leading opposition figures. His two deputies are veteran dissident Riad Seif, and Suhair Atassi, a female activist from Deraa, the cradle of the revolt. The coalition seeks to establish a government-in-exile, a unified military command, and an administration for rebel-held areas.

Warplanes bombed the rebel-held town of Ras al-Ain on the Turkish-Syrian border yesterday, as Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Ankara could rely on the alliance for protection. Israeli forces scored direct hits on Syrian artillery in response to a mortar shell that landed in the occupied Golan.