Moaz Al Khatib, the respected moderate Sunni cleric who stepped down as SNC president last month, says opposition should open channels of communication with Islamic hardliners and not declare war on them. Phil Sands reports
Former SNC chief says Islamic hardliners should be included
For Western states mulling over arming Syrian rebel forces, the possibility of advanced weapons ending up in Al Qaeda's hands, and later being used against Western or civilian targets, has been a major sticking point.
Differences of opinion over how to tackle the issue have added to the splits plaguing an already divided opposition, and played a key role in the resignation of Moaz Al Khatib, the respected moderate Sunni cleric who stepped down as SNC president last month.
In an interview with Al Ghad television broadcast last week, Mr Al Khatib advocated opening channels of communication with Islamic hardliners fighting against Mr Al Assad rather than declaring war on them.
"We refuse any radical thinking but this does not mean we can exclude them, they are Syrians and they have the right to speak up, and we need to enter into a dialogue with them. They are Syrians and for me a Syrian is worth more than the whole world," he said.
Although he did not mention Jabhat Al Nusra by name, an opposition figure with close ties to Mr Al Khatib said the cleric favoured talks with them and even suggested Al Nusra send a representative to sit in on SNC military and political meetings, in order to improve coordination.
Ahead of last month's "Friends of Syria" meeting in Turkey, Mr Al Khatib drew up a policy document that proposed setting up formal communications with radical Islamic militants, according to an opposition figure briefed on the plans.
It proposed forming a delegation, which Mr Al Khatib would head, to initiate those formal contacts with Al Nusra. Those plans were, however, vetoed by other SNC members who are seeking greater international intervention in Syria and who fear an association with Al Nusra will only scare away potential supporters.
Mr Al Khatib's proposal was never presented to John Kerry, the US secretary of state, at the Istanbul talks.