The Syrian opposition urged the use of Patriot missile batteries manned by North Atlantic Treaty Organization personnel in Turkey to protect civilians in the north from Syrian government rocket attacks.
The request was conveyed to Secretary of State John Kerry, opposition leader Moaz al-Khatib, said during an Arab League summit in Doha today. The U.S., Germany and the Netherlands have each deployed two Patriot missile defense batteries near the Syrian border to defend NATO-member Turkey against a possible missile attack from Syria.
“We are still waiting for a decision from NATO to protect people’s lives, not to fight but to protect lives,” al-Khatib told the conference. Kerry had “promised to study” the matter, he said.
Since the struggle to topple the government of Bashar al- Assad started two years ago, the Syrian opposition has struggled to create a unified political and military structure and has been marred by leadership disagreements. The rebel Free Syrian Army said on March 24 that it won’t recognize the Syrian opposition’s newly elected interim Prime Minister Ghassan Hitto.
The same day, Arab foreign ministers in Doha agreed to give the government’s vacant seat in the 22-member Arab League to an executive body to be formed by the Syrian National Council headed by al-Khatib. At the summit today, al-Khatib and Hitto sat next to a rebel flag among Arab League officials.
The Syrian government rejected the league’s decision. Granting the government’s seat to “an entity that’s lacking in the ability to survive” was an “illegal precedent that will allow opposition groups in all Arab countries to demand” similar treatment, Syria’s representative at the Arab League, Ahmed Youssef, said last night in an interview with Al Mayadeen TV, the Syrian Arab News Agency reported. The step was meant to “facilitate the implementation of the plot” against Syria, Youssef was cited as saying.
The Syrian government has accused Saudi Arabia and Qatar of providing weapons to the rebels, which include fighters from the Islamist al-Nusra Front, and destabilizing the country. Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani called today for those involved in crimes in Syria to be tried.
The opposition wants to have the Syrian government’s assets frozen and to be given its seat at the United Nations, al-Khatib said. No outside influence will decide who rules Syria after Assad’s removal, the former Damascus cleric said.
Al-Khatib, whose offer to hold talks with Assad’s regime was resisted by his comrades, resigned as head of the rebel coalition the same day the Arab League agreed to recognize the group as Syria’s representative. The Syrian National Coalition rejected his resignation, asking al-Khatib “to go back to his work as the president” of the group.
The civil war has killed about 100,000 people, displaced a quarter of the Syrian population and led to 200,000 people being held in government captivity, al-Khatib said.
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