Middle East

Syria opposition expected to take Syria seat at Arab summit

The flags of the 22 arab countries flutter outside the hotel that will host the 24th summit of the Arab League on March 25, 2013 in the Qatari capital Doha. AFP PHOTO/KARIM SAHIB

DOHA: An opposition coalition is expected to take Syria's seat at an Arab Summit for the first time on Tuesday, giving a badly-needed boost to an armed uprising to topple President Bashar al-Assad following an outbreak of factionalism in rebel ranks.

Leading opposition figure Moaz Alkhatib, one of the most popular figures in the revolt against Assad, plans to speak to the gathering of Arab heads of state in Qatar, for whom Syria's increasingly sectarian war is the main concern.

Alkhatib jolted the opposition coalition and its Arab backers on Sunday by announcing his resignation as head of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, blaming the world's failure to back the armed revolt.

Nevertheless he, or a colleague, is also expected to take Syria's chair, vacant since the Arab League suspended Syria in November 2011 in protest at Damascus's use of violence against civilians to quell dissent.

"Arab foreign ministers have requested that the Syrian seat be given to the opposition. This will be discussed at the summit," an Arab League official told reporters.

"I can't say (what will be the outcome) but we hope that they go by the recommendation."

Alkhatib's decision to quit, which also appeared to many commentators to be motivated by internal disputes in the alliance, undermined the alliance's claim to provide a coherent alternative to Assad.

Liberals interpreted his decision as a protest against what they see as an the increasing influence of hardline Islamists inside the coalition backed by Qatar.

The coalition was formed in Doha in November as an alternative to Assad, superseding the Syrian National Council, another umbrella opposition organisation largely influenced by the powerful Muslim Brotherhood which now, along with its allies, is a dominant bloc in the coalition.

But the coalition has not shaken an image as consisting mostly of foreign-backed exiles immersed in political wheeling and dealing.

Alkhatib said in remarks broadcast by al-Jazeera that his views on the need to restructure and broaden the coalition had played a small part in his decision to step down.

"The bigger reason is a protest against the position of world states which are only trying to push through their wishes, aspirations or ways to solve the (Syrian) crisis without feeling the pain that people suffer every day," he said without elaborating.

Alkhatib, a former imam at Damascus's Umayyad Mosque - one of the oldest and most famous mosques in the world, flew to Qatar on Monday evening to deliver a speech at the summit.

It was not immediately clear if Alkhatib's decision to attend the conference signalled he was going back on his resignation or not.

The Arab League official said without elaborating that Alkhatib's resignation "wasn't accepted".

Moderate civilian and military factions in his hometown of Damascus on Monday urged him to reconsider his decision to quit.

On al-Jazeera, Alkhatib acknowledged there had been differences of view inside the coalition about the wisdom of setting up a provisional government.

He was referring to last week's decision at an opposition meeting in Istanbul to appoint Islamist-leaning technocrat Ghassan Hitto as a provisional prime minister to form a government to fill a power vacuum in Syria arising from the revolt, which has killed more than 70,000 people.

Apart from Syria, the summit will also discuss the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts and long-standing plans to restructure the Arab League.





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