Arab League reportedly gives Syria’s seat to rebels

Official says vacant seat to go to opposition delegate ahead of Tuesday meeting; FSA’s Colonel Riad al-Asaad wounded in Syria

Free Syrian Army fighters patrol in Syria, February 2013. (photo credit: AP/Hussein Malla)
Free Syrian Army fighters patrol in Syria, February 2013. (photo credit: AP/Hussein Malla)

The Arab League transferred the Syrian seat in its 22-member bloc to the Syrian opposition, an Arab official told AFP on Monday, ahead of a scheduled meeting in Doha on Tuesday.

The move represents a blow to the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose seat has been vacant since its suspension in November 2011, several months after the unrest in the country began.

The Arab League’s decision is unlikely to mean much in practical terms to Assad’s regime, which has already been abandoned by many Arab states that are siding with rebel forces in the two-year-long civil war. But it reflects pressure being exerted by key rebel backers — Qatar and Saudi Arabia — for a show of Arab solidarity against Assad at a two-day Arab League summit beginning Tuesday in Doha.

The gathering comes amid a serious shakeup within the opposition, and follows an attack on a former leader of the Free Syrian Army.

On Monday, a spokesman for the rebel group told Al-Arabiya that a high-ranking officer was severely wounded and is receiving treatment in Turkey.

An explosive device was reportedly attached to Colonel Riad al-Asaad’s car in Al-Maydan, in Syria’s eastern Deir el-Zour province, where fierce clashes between rebel fighters and Assad forces have occurred in recent months. The blast also injured one of Asaad’s aides, according to reports.

FSA spokesman Louay Almokdad said the rebel force suspected the bomb was thrown at the car and not planted in it, but the details of the incident were unclear at this point.

“Assad’s attempt to kill Riad al-Asaad was to punish the eastern areas, such as Al-Reqqa and Deir el-Zour, held by rebels,” Louay Almokdad told Al-Arabiya. “No matter who they [Assad forces] kill, and no matter what they destroy, the uprising against the regime will continue.”

On Sunday, Syria’s opposition plunged further into disarray as its president quit and its military chief refused to recognize the newly elected prime minister of an interim government for rebel-held areas.

The moves reflected deep splits in the body the US and its allies hope will emerge as the united face of the opposition and advance the fight to topple the Assad regime.

The first blow to the opposition Syrian National Coalition was the surprise resignation of its president Mouaz al-Khatib, who said he was quitting in frustration over what he called lack of international support and constraints imposed by the body itself.

Khatib, who rose to prominence as a preacher in the most famous mosque in Damascus, said in a statement posted on his Facebook page that he was making good on an earlier vow to quit if undefined “red lines” were crossed.

He also blamed world powers for not offering Syria’s rebels the support they demand and complained that “international and regional parties” tried to push the Coalition toward negotiations with the Assad regime — something most members refuse.

Despite electing a new, US-educated prime minister last week to head a planned interim government, the Coalition has failed to make much of a mark inside Syria, where hundreds of independent rebel brigades are fighting a civil war against Assad’s forces.

Reflecting the growing dissension over that move, the head of the Coalition’s military branch, Gen. Salim Idris, said his group refused to recognize the new prime minister, Ghassan Hitto, a little-known IT professional from Texas, because he lacked broad support among the opposition.

“For the purpose of giving power to a prime minister to unite the revolutionary forces and lead the Syrian revolution toward certain victory, we unequivocally declare that the Free Syrian Army… conditions its support and cooperation on the achievement of a political agreement on the name of a prime minister,” Idris said in an online video.

An aide to Idris said many prominent Syrian opposition figures opposed the election of Hitto, who received 35 out of 48 votes cast by the Coalition’s 63 active members.

While Khatib’s resignation surprised many Coalition members, some said it reflected problems that have caused five other members to resign in the past week.

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