March 24 (Bloomberg) -- Syrian opposition leader Moaz al-Khatib, whose offer to hold talks with President Bashar al-Assad’s regime was resisted by his comrades, resigned as head of the rebel coalition as the Arab League agreed to recognize the group as Syria’s representative.
“I announce my resignation from the National Coalition, so that I can work with a freedom that cannot possibly be had in an official institution,” al-Khatib said in a statement published today on his Facebook page. “I had promised the great Syrian people and promised God that I would resign if matters reached some red lines.”
The Syrian National Coalition rejected his resignation, asking al-Khatib “to go back to his work as the president” of the group, according to a statement it e-mailed late today.
While rebel fighters, including groups affiliated with al-Qaeda in Iraq, have pushed Assad’s army from territory in the north, they have failed to create a united political and military structure in the two years since anti-Assad protests began.
The resignation “showed the divisions that unfortunately continue to affect the Syrian coalition,” Andrew Tabler, a senior fellow in the Arab politics program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said in response to e-mailed questions. “There are also divisions between those inside the country and out.”
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said while on a one-day trip to Baghdad that he was sorry though unsurprised that al-Khatib resigned. “We view this as a continuum, it’s not about one person, it’s about a regime that’s killing its people,” he told reporters, expressing confidence that Assad will eventually negotiate his exit from power.
President Barack Obama is under mounting pressure at home and from European and Middle Eastern allies to do more to support the Syrian opposition in a civil war that the United Nations estimates has claimed at least 70,000 lives and left 5 million as refugees or in need of aid. Britain and France this month pressed their European Union partners to lift an arms embargo on Syria.
“We have been slaughtered under the watchful eyes of the world for two years, in an unprecedented manner by a vicious regime,” al-Khatib said in his statement. “Many have offered a hand on a purely humanitarian basis and we thank them for that.”
Al-Khatib, a former Damascus cleric, was appointed head of the National Coalition for Opposition Forces and the Syrian Revolution in November.
Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani said Arab League foreign ministers were in communication with al-Khatib and said he hoped al-Khatib would reconsider his resignation.
Granting the Syrian opposition a seat in the Arab League is a “historic opportunity after their sacrifices for more than two years and after their brave resistance,” Sheikh Jassim told reporters after the foreign ministers’ meeting.
In another setback to the opposition’s unity, the rebel Free Syrian Army said today it won’t recognize the Syrian opposition’s newly elected interim Prime Minister Ghassan Hitto, Sky News reported. The U.S. citizen was appointed this month to administer areas of the country held by rebels fighting to overthrow Assad.
Arab foreign ministers agreed to give the Syrian government’s vacant seat in the Arab League to an executive body to be formed by the SNC, Jordan’s Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said today in Doha. He spoke while attending an Arab foreign ministers’ preparatory meeting in Doha.
Al-Khatib attributed his resignation “to lack of international support, but that support has steadily been increasing from the Arab League and the West,” Tabler said.
The civil war has weakened the Syrian economy and is threatening the country’s currency, Central Bank Governor Adib Mayaleh said on state TV today. “The pound will certainly collapse” if people continue to replace the local currency with dollars, he said. The increase in the dollar rate isn’t real, Mayaleh said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Glen Carey in Riyadh at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at firstname.lastname@example.org