Syrian Opposition Seeks NATO Aid Against Assad’s RocketsRobert Tuttle and Glen Carey
North Atlantic Treaty Organization missile batteries in Turkey should be used to protect Syrian civilians in the north from rocket attacks by President Bashar al-Assad’s government, the opposition said.
The request was conveyed to Secretary of State John Kerry, Syrian opposition leader Moaz al-Khatib said yesterday during an Arab League summit in Doha. The U.S., Germany and the Netherlands have each deployed two Patriot missile defense systems near the Syrian border to defend NATO-member Turkey against a possible missile attack from Syria.
“We are still waiting for a decision from NATO to protect people’s lives, not to fight but to protect lives,” al-Khatib told the conference. Kerry “promised to study” the matter, he said.
The U.S. is “aware of the request” and “at this time, NATO does not intend to intervene militarily in Syria,” said Jay Carney, a White House spokesman.
Missile batteries in Turkey are “for defensive purposes only,” Carney said yesterday at a briefing in Washington.
Since the struggle to topple the government of Bashar al-Assad started two years ago, the Syrian opposition has struggled to create a unified political and military structure and has been riven by leadership disagreements. The rebel Free Syrian Army said March 24 that it won’t recognize the opposition’s newly elected interim prime minister, Ghassan Hitto.
The same day, Arab foreign ministers in Doha agreed to give the government’s vacant seat in the 22-member Arab League to an executive body to be formed by the Syrian National Council headed by al-Khatib. At the summit yesterday, al-Khatib and Hitto sat next to a rebel flag among Arab League officials.
The Syrian government rejected the league’s decision. Granting the government’s seat to “an entity that’s lacking in the ability to survive” was an “illegal precedent that will allow opposition groups in all Arab countries to demand” similar treatment, Syria’s representative at the Arab League, Ahmed Youssef, said in an interview with Al Mayadeen TV, the Syrian Arab News Agency reported. The step was meant to “facilitate the implementation of the plot” against Syria, Youssef was cited as saying.
The Syrian government has accused Saudi Arabia and Qatar of providing weapons to the rebels, which include fighters from the Islamist al-Nusra Front, and destabilizing the country. Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani called yesterday for those involved in crimes in Syria to be tried.
Arab states should have the right to arm rebel forces, according to a resolution to be agreed to by the summit, according to the final communique. The league also called for a United Nations meeting to discuss the rebuilding of Syria.
The opposition wants to have the Syrian government’s assets frozen and to be given its seat at the UN, al-Khatib said. No outside influence will decide who rules Syria after Assad’s removal, the former Damascus cleric said.
The opposition will take control of the Syrian embassy in Doha today, the first to fall under its control, the Syrian coalition media office head, Khalid Saleh, said in Doha. The Syrian opposition estimates the regime’s frozen funds at about $2 billion, Saleh said.
Al-Khatib, whose offer to hold talks with Assad’s regime was resisted by his comrades, resigned as head of the rebel coalition the same day the Arab League agreed to recognize the group as Syria’s representative. The Syrian National Coalition rejected his resignation, asking al-Khatib “to go back to his work as the president” of the group.
The civil war has killed about 100,000 people, displaced a quarter of the Syrian population and left 200,000 people in government captivity, al-Khatib said.
On the ground, Syrian forces seized control of Baba Amr in Homs, about two weeks after rebels took control of the area, the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on its Facebook page. Assad’s army dislodged the rebels after heavy bombardment by aircraft and artillery, the group said.