Syria opposition leader demands Patriot missiles, UN seat

26th Mar 2013

Syria’s opposition leader Moaz al-Khatib, taking Syria’s seat at an Arab summit for the first time on Tuesday, said the United States should use Patriot missiles to protect rebel-held areas from government warplanes.

Khatib said the United States should play a bigger role in helping end the two-year-old conflict in Syria, blaming President Bashar al-Assad’s government for what he called its refusal to solve the crisis.

“I have asked [US Secretary of State John] Kerry to extend the umbrella of the Patriot missiles to cover the Syrian north and he promised to study the subject,” Khatib said, referring to NATO Patriot missile batteries sent to Turkey last year to protect Turkish airspace.

“We are still waiting for a decision from NATO to protect people’s lives, not to fight but to protect lives,” he said.

In a fiery address, Khatib also demanded that he be allowed to represent Syria at the United Nations.

“We demand … the seat of Syria at the United Nations and at other international organisations,” Khatib said, addressing Arab leaders at the Doha summit.

Khatib, a Sunni cleric, took over Syria’s vacant chair at the Arab League summit in Doha after it had been empty since the Arab League suspended Syria’s membership in November 2011.

Qatar had lobbied other Arab League to promote Syria’s opposition National Coalition to fill the country’s spot.

Khatib had announced his resignation from his position as leader of the Syrian National Coalition Sunday, confusing the situation and throwing the fragmented opposition into disarray and denting its credibility.

Despite his resignation, which has not yet been accepted by the coalition, Khatib had said he would address the summit “in the name of the Syrian people,” and that his attendance “is not linked to the resignation which will be later discussed.”

Khatib had told Al Jazeera television that his main reason for quitting was frustration with world inaction. He also acknowledged that the coalition had been divided, referring to last week’s decision in Istanbul to appoint Islamist-leaning technocrat Ghassan Hitto as provisional prime minister.

Last year during the summit, Russia and Iran threw their backing behind a UN-sponsored peace plan in Syria, as Arab foreign ministers met in Baghdad to debate a draft resolution calling on Damascus to end the continuing violence.

The plan’s six-points had called for a ceasefire and withdrawal of government forces from cities and towns, but did not specify that Assad must step aside as a precondition for dialogue.

(AFP, Reuters, Al-Akhbar)



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