Arab summit convenes as opposition awarded Syria seat

An opposition coalition takes Syria's seat at an Arab Summit for the first time

Arab summit convenes as opposition awarded Syria seat

World Bulletin/News Desk

A summit of Arab heads of state opened in the Qatari capital Doha on Tuesday expected to focus on the war in Syria as well as on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Syrian opposition leaders took Syria's seat at an Arab League summit for the first time in Doha on Tuesday, live television coverage showed.

The Syrian National Coalition delegation occupied the seat after Qatar's emir asked his fellow Arab leaders to invite the opposition to represent Syria formally at the summit.

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 26 Mart 2013, 11:47

Muhammed Öylek