Monday 11 December 2017

Syrian opposition in turmoil as moderate leader resigns

Robert Tait

SYRIA'S opposition was thrown into disarray yesterday after its moderate leader resigned, blaming a lack of Western support in the two-year struggle to topple President Bashar Al-Assad.

Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, the head of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, said he was quitting so he could work with more "freedom".

Complicating matters, the National Coalition said it refused the resignation, issuing a statement saying that it wanted Mr Khatib to go back to work. It was unclear whether he would return to running the group or not. His resignation came after fellow opposition activists assailed him for offering Mr Assad a negotiated deal, before forming a provisional government that undercut his authority.

The development threatens to destabilise the national coalition just two days before an Arab League summit at which heads of state were to award the group Syria's vacant seat.

Mr Khatib, a former preacher in Damascus's Umayyad Mosque who endured several spells in jail in Syria, made his disillusionment plain in an announcement on Facebook. He suggested that the West had not provided the opposition with sufficient backing to fight Mr Assad's forces in a two-year civil war that has cost an estimated 70,000 lives.

"For the past two years, we have been slaughtered by an unprecedentedly vicious regime, while the world has looked on. . . All the destruction of Syria's infrastructure, the detention of tens of thousands of people, the forced flight of hundreds of thousands and other forms of suffering have been insufficient for the international community to take a decision to allow the people to defend themselves," said Mr Khatib as he announced his resignation.

Western aid for the rebels has been limited predominantly to "non-lethal assistance", with Britain and France left frustrated by the rest of the European Union in attempts to relax an arms embargo for the opposition.

Mr Khatib's decision coincided with a plea by John Kerry, the US secretary of state, for Iraq to stop allowing Iranian planes to use its airspace to transport arms to support Mr Assad, Tehran's close ally.

"Anything that supports President Assad is problematic," Mr Kerry said during a surprise visit to Baghdad after meeting Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister. "I made it very clear to the prime minister that the overflights from Iran are in fact helping to sustain President Assad and his regime."

Mr Kerry said Mr Khatib's resignation was "not a surprise", adding: "It is almost inevitable in a transition."

Opposition insiders said Mr Khatib was left weakened last week when the coalition chose Ghassan Hitto, a pro-Islamist technocrat backed by Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood, as a provisional prime minister in charge of forming a government.

"Basically Qatar and the Brotherhood forced Al-Khatib out," Fawaz Tello, an independent opposition campaigner said.

Irish Independent

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