Syria's main opposition group has taken the country's seat for the first time at the annual Arab League summit. Mouaz al-Khatib, the opposition chief who recently attempted to resign, thanked the members for the seat.
Syrian opposition representatives took the country’s seat for the first time Tuesday at the opening of the annual two-day Arab League summit in Doha. The bloc suspended Syria's membership in November 2011 after President Bashar al-Assad's regime refused to halt its violent crackdown on democracy protests.
At the request of the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the rebel flag replaced the official Syrian one as Mouaz al-Khatib took the seat of the head of the delegation amidst applause.
Despite representing the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, al-Khatib announced his resignation this week out of frustration with the amount of international support for the opposition and problems inside the body itself. However, the coalition rejected his resignation and he has said he will discuss the issue later.
Addressing the gathering, al-Khatib thanked the 22-member bloc for granting the seat to the opposition.
"It is part of the restoration of legitimacy that the people of Syria have long been robbed of," he said.
Al-Khatib also addressed the turmoil in his country, saying the United States should play a bigger role in helping end the two-year-old conflict in Syria. He said he had asked US Secretary of State John Kerry for Patriot surface-to-air missiles to help defend rebel-controlled northern parts of Syria.
"We are still waiting for a decision from NATO to protect people's lives, not to fight but to protect lives," he said. NATO Patriot missile batteries were sent to Turkey last year to protect Turkish airspace.
Syria in focus
The United Nations estimates that about 70,000 people have been killed in a conflict that began with peaceful anti-Assad protests and turned into an increasingly sectarian armed civil war.
The war in Syria has divided world powers, halting action at the UN Security Council on whether or not to supply rebels with arms.
The Arab world is also split, with Saudi Arabia and Qatar as strongly anti-Assad, and Iraq, Algeria and Lebanon the most resistant to calls for his removal.
Besides al-Khatib, the Syrian delegation included Ghassan Hitto, the recently elected prime minister of a planned interim government to administer rebel-held areas in Syria, and two prominent opposition figures, George Sabra and Suheir Atassi.
Iraqi Vice President Khidr al-Khazaei told the opening session, "We reiterate our position to fully support the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people and to support the Syrian peaceful, political solution ... without any interference."
The league's rotating leadership will pass from Iraq to Qatar.
hc/dr (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)