Ahmed Moaz AlAlkhatib, head of the Syrian opposition delegation, attending the opening of the Arab League Summit in Doha, yesterday.
WASHINGTON/doha: The White House said yesterday that Nato would not provide Patriot missile batteries to protect rebel strongholds in Syria, following a request from opposition chief Ahmed Moaz AlAlkhatib.
Alkhatib asked for an extension of the umbrella provided by Patriot positions on the Turkish border designed to intercept any missiles fired from the Syrian side, as he took his seat at the Arab League summit in Doha.
“We are aware of the request,” White House spoksman Jay Carney said.
“At this time, Nato does not intend to intervene militarily in Syria,” Carney said.
“I think that a Patriot missile battery would follow the definition of military assistance,” Carney said, adding that Patriot anti-missile batteries in Turkey were for self-defense only.
Carney added, however, that the White House was constantly reviewing its policies in Syria, which have seen Washington give hundreds of millions of dollars in humanitarian aid but stop short of providing “lethal” military help.
AlAlkhatib said in Doha that he had asked US Secretary of State John Kerry to extend the Patriot missile protection into northern Syria, and that Kerry had “promised to look into the matter.”
“We are still awaiting a decision from Nato on this matter,” AlAlkhatib said.
A top State Department official was also cool to AlAlkhatib’s demand for the Syrian opposition coalition, which he heads, to take up Syria’s seat at the United Nations, saying that would be up to the UN.
“We recognise the Syrian Opposition Coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people,” Ventrell told reporters. “But in terms of recognition as a government, we’re not there yet,” he stressed.
Moaz AlAlkhatib, who on Sunday announced his resignation as leader of the Syrian opposition coalition, took to the podium in the Qatari capital to blame Assad for the continuing bloodshed in a “struggle between freedom and slavery, justice and tyranny” and reveal that he was awaiting an answer from the US about his call to use Patriot missiles in Turkey to protect civilians from the regime’s air power.
“We are still waiting for a decision from Nato to protect people’s lives, not to fight but to protect lives,” Alkhatib said.
Opposition officials also said they expected Britain and France to make good on pledges to supply weapons to the Free Syrian Army — the main opposition fighting formation — if other EU member states insisted on maintaining their arms embargo. The coalition would also be seeking to take over the Syrian seat at the UN, despite certain opposition from Russia and China, the officials said.
Alkhatib, a respected former imam of the Umayyad mosque in Damascus, made no mention of his resignation in his statesmanlike and widely praised summit speech that focused on the right of the Syrian people to determine their own future free of external meddling.
“I convey to you the greetings of the orphans, widows, the wounded, the detained and the homeless,” he told the gathering at a glittering conference centre in Doha. Syrians, the only people in the world whose bakeries were bombed by fighter jets, had paid “a bloody price” in their struggle for freedom.
Aides said Alkhatib was likely to withdraw his resignation in exchange for widening the coalition to include more women, more members of Assad’s Alawite community and other minorities, and more people inside Syria, which would weaken the power of the Muslim Brotherhood relative to other groups.
Alkhatib expressed full confidence in Ghassan Hitto, a US-based IT executive who was chosen as prime minister of a Syrian transitional government and was widely seen as the candidate of Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood. Opposition officials said they hoped Hitto would consolidate a governing presence on the ground in liberated areas of Syria while Alkhatib would lead the wider diplomatic campaign.
Western governments will be relieved that Alkhatib appears to have turned a leadership crisis into an opportunity for change but remain concerned at the ability of the opposition to overcome divisions and factionalism. Another issue is the often fraught relationship between exiled political leaders and armed fighters on the ground.
Alkhatib defended the presence of foreign fighters in the uprising but urged those needed by their families to go home. a small concession to western concerns about the rise and proliferation of jihadi-type groups such as Jabhat Al Nusra. But he also said advisers from Iran, Russia and Lebanon’s Hezbollah all Assad allies should leave.
In Damascus, the government lambasted as “shameful” the Arab League’s move to allow the opposition to take the Syrian seat. The league had “exchanged its Arab identity for a Zionist-American one”, complained an editorial in the state-run Al-Thawra newspaper. Recognising the opposition “legitimises terrorist acts that are committed overtly and blatantly against the Syrians”, it said.
Syria will be concerned at the obvious parallel - the league’s recognition of the Libyan opposition to Muammar Gaddafi months before he was overthrown by Nato-backed rebels. Syrian state TV did not cover the summit meeting, broadcasting a programme on makeup for women instead.Agencies