Leader calls for greater U.S. help for the rebels

Syrian opposition representatives took the country’s seat for the first time at an Arab League summit that opened in Qatar on Tuesday, a diplomatic boost for the forces fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

In a ceremonious entrance, accompanied by applause, a delegation led by Mouaz al-Khatib, former president of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, took the seats assigned for Syria at the invitation of Qatar’s Emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani.

Mr. Khatib used the forum to call for a greater U.S. role in aiding the rebels and said he had appealed to Secretary of State John Kerry to use NATO Patriot anti-missile batteries in Turkey to help defend northern Syria against strikes by Mr. Assad’s forces.

The decision for the opposition to take Syria’s seat was made at the recommendation of Arab Foreign Ministers earlier this week in the Qatari capital, Doha. The Arab League in 2011 suspended Syria’s membership as punishment for the regime’s crackdown on opponents.

Besides Mr. Khatib, the Syrian delegation included Ghassan Hitto, recently elected Prime Minister of a planned interim government to administer rebel-held areas, and two prominent opposition figures, George Sabra and Suheir Atassi.

Even as rebel fighters gain more territory on the ground in their fight against Mr. Assad’s troops, their mostly in-exile political leadership has been divided. Mr. Khatib announced his resignation on Sunday because of what he described as restrictions on his work and frustration with the level of international aid for the opposition. The coalition rejected the resignation and Mr. Khatib said he would discuss the issue later and represent the opposition at the Qatar summit “in the name of the Syrian people”.

Mr. Hitto’s election was also rejected by the opposition’s military office, which said he was not a consensus figure. Some members have accused Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood of imposing their will on the Coalition.

Damascus on Tuesday blasted the Arab League’s move, with the Al-Thawra newspaper, a government mouthpiece, portraying it as a selling-out of Arab identity to please Israel and the U.S.

At the summit, League chief Nabil Elaraby warned that the conflict would have “grave repercussions” on the whole region and blamed Mr. Assad’s regime for failure to end the strife. A “political settlement of the Syrian crisis is the choice that should be undertaken”, he said. — AP