Vacuum at top of Syrian opposition as Moaz al-Khatib reaffirms resignation

Move comes as John Kerry announces doubling of non-lethal US aid to rebels

Syrian opposition leader Moaz al-Khatib meets US secretary of state John Kerry in Istanbul on Saturday. National Coalition head al-Khatib has reaffirmed his intention of stepping down, creating a vacuum at the top of the expatriate body. Reuters/Evan Vucci

Syrian opposition leader Moaz al-Khatib meets US secretary of state John Kerry in Istanbul on Saturday. National Coalition head al-Khatib has reaffirmed his intention of stepping down, creating a vacuum at the top of the expatriate body. Reuters/Evan Vucci

Mon, Apr 22, 2013, 06:00

Syrian opposition National Coalition head Moaz al-Khatib has reaffirmed his intention of stepping down, creating a vacuum at the top of the expatriate body.

Mr Khatib submitted his resignation last month but the coalition’s general assembly will not meet to discuss his resignation or to nominate his successor until May 10th. His decision coincided with US secretary of state John Kerry’s announcement that the US would double non-lethal aid to the rebels to $123 million (€94.2 million).

Speaking in Istanbul to the 11-member Friends of Syria group, Mr Kerry said aid would be channelled through the rebel Free Syrian Army.

US president Barack Obama is seeking to establish an agreed transitional government and the election of a new leader, Mr Kerry said.

The rebels and expatriate opposition have been pressing for military supplies but western powers have been reluctant to provide arms, fearing they could fall into the hands of al-Qaeda-linked fundamentalist groups.

The coalition urged allies “to take specific, precise and immediate action to protect Syrian civilians from . . . ballistic missiles and chemical weapons”, which, it says, have been used by government forces. It called for “surgical strikes” by drones on facilities from which missiles are being fired; a no-fly zone; and a UN resolution condemning Syrian president Bashar al-Assad for mounting attacks on civilians.

In Luxembourg today, EU foreign ministers are set to discuss partial lifting of the bloc’s oil embargo on Syria to permit the sale of crude from regions controlled by the rebels. German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle said Berlin would accept the expiry of an EU arms embargo at the end of May if other EU states advocated it.

Meanwhile, fighting in Syria spilled across the border into Lebanon. As Syrian rebels and troops fought over Qusair, a Syrian town east of the border, Lebanese authorities evacuated schools in Shia border villages in their country after two rebel rockets fell in al-Qasr village and two mortar rounds in Hermel town.

And Syrian forces and militia loyal to al-Assad killed at least 85 people yesterday, including women and children, when they stormed a Damascus suburb after five days of fighting, opposition activists in the area said.