Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, (right) who is leading the UAE delegation at the summit, described Mr Al Khatib's speech as "touching", and an expression of Syria's aspirations.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, (right) who is leading the UAE delegation at the summit, described Mr Al Khatib's speech as 'touching', and an expression of Syria's aspirations.

Rebel leader Al Khatib takes Syria's seat at the Arab League

Al Khatib demands place at United Nations and urges Nato to deploy Patriot missile systems to defend the rebel-held north. Elizabeth Dickinson reports from Doha summit

DOHA // The Syrian rebels' political leader took the country's seat at the Arab League yesterday to a wave of applause, and immediately demanded its place at the United Nations too.

In a passionate speech that electrified the League summit in Doha, Moaz Al Khatib interspersed politics with vivid descriptions of the human toll of the conflict, and urged Nato to deploy Patriot missile systems to defend rebel-held areas.

"We on behalf of our people demand … the seat at the United Nations and also at international organisations," he said.

Mr Al Khatib said he had asked the 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", although a Nato official in Brussels said it had "no intention to intervene militarily in Syria".

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, who is leading the UAE delegation at the summit, described Mr Al Khatib's speech as "touching", and an expression of Syria's aspirations.

"We consider the UAE a supporter of the Syrian people," Mr Al Khatib said after meeting Sheikh Mohammed, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Foreign Minister, and other UAE delegates.

Mr Al Khatib, whose resignation as president of the SNC on Sunday threw the opposition into turmoil, did not discuss his position in the coalition.

But delegates and opposition figures at the summit said his presence indicated that he would not immediately quit his post.

The emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, who lobbied for the opposition to take Syria's seat at the Arab League, referred to Mr Al Khatib as president of the opposition, as did the league secretary general Nabil ElAraby.

"Why isn't it clear who's leading the coalition? It's Moaz Al Khatib, unequivocally," said Yaser Tabbara, an adviser to the new Syrian National Coalition prime minister, Ghassan Hitto, who was also at the meeting. "He's the head of the delegation, he's the head of the coalition and from a legal standpoint, his resignation was not accepted by the opposition's general assembly."

The rebel flag replaced that of the Syrian regime, which prompted an angry reaction from media supportive of the Syrian president Bashar Al Assad.

"Shame on you, Arab brothers," the Tishreen newspaper said.

Syria's state television station said: "Qatar wants to bypass the rules of the Arab League by giving the seat of a founding member of the League to a coalition that obeys only the money and fuel of the Gulf and submits to American dictates."

Mr Al Khatib also called on countries that had frozen funds of the Bashar Al Assad regime to turn them over to the coalition "so that they can be redirected to the reconstruction of Syria".

He rejected concerns about Syria's minorities being marginalised as the conflict takes a sectarian turn.

"At the beginning of the revolution, some people tried to have a civil war on the coast where we have Sunni and Alawite, but we know we are the same people," he said. "The Syrians are Syrians and they will go on like that with dignity."

Mr Khatib's demand for Syria's UN seat is seen not merely as symbolic but addressing numerous legal issues that have plagued the opposition's attempts to build a provisional government in rebel-held areas.

Most immediately, recognition would allow the UN to coordinate humanitarian relief through the coalition rather than the regime, as international law currently requires. The government of Mr Assad has tightly regulated the humanitarian organisations working in the country and prevented transfers of supplies from Turkey.

Full recognition at the UN could also allow the opposition to procure arms, said Mr Tabbara, the advisor to the SNC's prime minister.

A summit draft resolution on Syria gives member states the right to offer Syrians all means of self-defence including arms. The resolution affirms "the right of every state to offer all forms of self-defence, including military, to support the resistance of the Syrian people and the Free Syrian Army".

Although Syria dominated discussions, Palestine also figured heavily.

Qatar's emir proposed creating a US$1 billion (Dh3.76bn) fund aimed at "preserving the Arab nature of Jerusalem". The fund, to which Qatar pledged an initial $250 million, should be administered by the Islamic Development Bank, Sheikh Hamad suggested.

Egypt's president told delegates that he will deal "firmly" and "decisively" with any foreign attempt to meddle in the affairs of his country, mired in turmoil for most of the two years since Hosni Mubarak stepped down. Mohammed Morsi said Egypt did not interfere in other countries' domestic affairs and expected to be treated similarly. Turkey's foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu discussed the rapprochement between his country and Israel, after an apology from the Israelis for casualties suffered when the Israeli defence forces boarded a Turkish flotilla attempting to break a blockade of the Gaza strip in May 2010.

Mr Davutoglu said the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu had assured Turkey that he expected his government to offer compensation for Turkish victims.

After a public session, private discussions continued through the afternoon, during which delegates were expected to discuss proposals backed by Qatar to reform the Arab League.

Mr ElAraby said reform was overdue, calling for a "full review of Arab League charter", which was first drafted after the Second World War.


Back to the top

More articles

Editor's Picks

 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani greets supporters after his arrival in Zahedan, the regional capital of Sistan and Baluchestan province on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. During Mr Rouhani's two-day visit, he will tour several other cities and hold meetings with local scholars and entrepreneurs. Maryam Rahmanian for The National

On the road with Hassan Rouhani

Iran's president is touring some of Iran's most underdeveloped provinces. Foreign correspondent Yeganeh Salehi is traveling with him.

 The Doha-based Youssef Al Qaradawi speaks to the crowd as he leads Friday prayers in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt in February, 2011. The outspoken pro-Muslim Brotherhood imam has been critical of the UAE’s policies toward Islamist groups, adding to friction between Qatar and other GCC states. Khalil Hamra / AP Photo

Brotherhood imam skips Doha sermon, but more needed for GCC to reconcile

That Youssef Al Qaradawi did not speak raises hopes that the spat involving Qatar and the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain might be slowly moving towards a resolution.

 Twitter photo of  Abdel Fattah El Sisi on the campaign trail on March 30. Photo courtesy-Twitter/@SisiCampaign

El Sisi rides a bicycle, kicks off social media storm

The photos and video created a huge buzz across social media networks, possibly a marker of a new era for Egypt.

 An Afghan election commission worker carries a ballot box at a vote counting centre in Jalalabad on April 6. A roadside bomb hit a truck carrying full ballot boxes in northern Afghanistan, killing three people a day after the country voted for a successor to President Hamid Karzai. Eight boxes of votes were destroyed in the blast, which came as the three leading candidates voiced concerns about possible fraud. Noorullah Shirzada / AFP Photo

Two pressing questions for Afghanistan’s future president

Once in office, the next Afghan president must move fast to address important questions that will decide the immediate future of the country.

 Friday is UN Mine Awareness Day and Omer Hassan, who does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan, is doing all he can to teach people about the dangers posed by landmines. Louise Redvers for The National

A landmine nearly ended Omer’s life but he now works to end the threat of mines in Iraq

Omer Hassan does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan and only has to show people his mangled leg to underscore the danger of mines. With the world marking UN Mine Awareness Day on Friday, his work is as important as ever as Iraq is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world.

 Supporters of Turkey's ruling AKP cheer as they follow the election's results in front of the party's headquarters in Ankara on March 30. Adem Altan/ AFP Photo

Erdogan critic fears retaliation if he returns to Turkey

Emre Uslu is a staunch critic of Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Now, with a mass crackdown on opposition expected, he is unsure when he can return home.


To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National