Syrian opposition opens embassy in Qatar and claims world powers are not helping

Rebel leader makes call for unity

Syrian National Coalition leader Moaz Alkhatib (second from right) arrives at the opening of its embassy in Doha, Qatar, yesterday. A Syrian opposition bloc recognised by the Arab League as the sole representative for Syria has opened its first embassy there. Photograph: Mohammed Dabbous

A Syrian opposition bloc recognised by the Arab League as the sole representative for Syria opened its first embassy in Qatar yesterday in a diplomatic blow to President Bashar al-Assad.

But opposition leader Moaz Alkhatib, who took Syria's seat at an Arab summit in Doha on Tuesday, used the ribbon-cutting ceremony to voice his frustration with world powers for failing to do more to help in the two-year-old struggle to topple Mr Assad.

“There is an international willingness for the revolution not to triumph,” he told reporters at the embassy, which was festooned with balloons in the red, green, white and black of Syria’s flag.

Mr Alkhatib, a Sunni Muslim cleric who resigned this week as leader of the Syrian National Coalition but stays on as a caretaker, alluded to internal differences in the opposition umbrella group formed in November. “The only way to victory is unity,” he said.


Damascus raged against summit host Qatar for helping the opposition into Syria’s seat at the league, while Russia and Iran also criticised the move to delegitimise Mr Assad’s rule.

Although the 22-member Arab bloc lent its support to giving weapons to Syrian rebels, it is unclear how much impact the opposition’s diplomatic advances will have.

Mr Alkhatib said he was surprised by a rebuff from the United States and Nato to his request for Patriot missiles based in Turkey to help protect rebel-held parts of northern Syria from Assad’s helicopters and warplanes. “I’m scared that this will be a message to the Syrian regime telling it ‘Do what you want’,” he said.

Nato secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen, speaking to students in Moscow via video-link from Brussels, said the western alliance had no intention of intervening in Syria.

“We believe that we need a political solution in Syria,” he said, noting there was no UN mandate for Nato action there.

Disunity among Syria’s opposition in exile and the armed factions on the ground have long hindered the struggle against Mr Assad and have contributed to western reluctance to intervene.

Mr Alkhatib has cited the West’s failure to do more to help the opposition, as well as the coalition’s internal divisions, as reasons for announcing he would quit as leader.

Symbolic support
The Arab summit's support for Mr Assad's foes may prove more symbolic than practical, but Syria vented its wrath at Qatar for its pro-opposition actions at the annual gathering. "The emir of Qatar, the biggest bank for supporting terrorism in the region, began his presidency of the Arab League by hijacking it with tainted oil and money," said state news agency Sana, a mouthpiece for Mr Assad's government.

Russia, which gives Damascus military and diplomatic support, scolded the Arab League for taking “another anti-Syria step”.

Arab nations are far from united on Syria, with Algeria, Iraq and Lebanon often opposing any action against Mr Assad’s rule. – (Reuters)