Doha: The conflict in Syria, which has become a marquee of sectarianism in the Middle East, recently went through a flux as Arab leaders propped up the fledgling rebel leadership with moves aimed at lending fresh legitimacy to the movement against President Bashar Al Assad.
The Arab League, which held its annual Summit in Doha, hoisted Ahmed Moaz Al Khatib onto the seat of the Syrian Arab Republic, inviting derision from the regime in Damascus, who subsequently railed at Qatar in response to the league supporting 'thugs and bandits.' The two-year rebellion against Assad has seen the fiercest battles rage in the West Asian nation, claiming close to 70,000 thousand lives and triggering speculation on whether the United States should intervene militarily or back the rebels with arms.
Hillary Clinton, who just retired as the Secretary of State, went on record saying that US President Barack Obama was not one with her suggestion of arming the Syrian rebels. The revolt which took off from the Arab Spring movements against authoritarian regimes, has triggered concern in the international community that has been vacillating on the question of European and American intervention.
Qatar and Saudi Arabia's support for the rebellion has been indispensable. The two governments have been supplying weapons to the rebel fighters who are united by a common cause but loyal to various religious and ethnic streams.
As Al Khatib took his seat as the Syrian representative in the 22-member Arab League in the glittering convention hall in Doha, loud applause greeted the svelte former Muslim cleric. At the same time, a faint smile crossed the face of Qatar's Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, on whose invitation Al Khatib took the chair.
"Syrian people alone should determine who rules the country," Al Khatib said, alluding to concerns that Qatar and Saudi Arabia are dictating the script in the Arab Spring nation's protracted civil war. His speech was largely praised despite its belligerent tone.
Chemical Weapons & Patriot Missiles
Al Khatib, a professional geophysicist, rejected concerns that the chemical weapons in Syria will fall into irresponsible hands after the transfer of power to the National Coalition to which he belongs. "Let me assure the international community that the future of these weapons would be decided by the people of Syria through a national conciliation, so there is no chance for the extremists to get hold of the weapons," he said, days after resigning as the leader of the movement in protest at what he called the international community's reluctance to intervene in Syria.
Though he has not withdrawn his resignation, he remains the head of the opposition group as its president, a position to which he was anointed last year at a meeting of Arab leaders in Doha. Ghassan Hitto, a naturalised US citizen from Syria, is the new prime minister of the transitional government .
Coming out strongly against Washington for rejecting his plea of stationing Patriot missiles in north Syria, Al Khatib said this has given the Syrian regime a licence to "do what you want."
"...I was really surprised by the comment issued from the White House that it was not possible to protect the Syrian people," Al Khatib, who requested US Secretary of State John Kerry to install the missile battery already in place in Turkey in north Syria, said. The opposition says civilians and rebel positions are continuously under threat of bombing raids by the Syrian Air Force. The Patriot Missile Defence is a reactive armament that can intercept incoming missiles.
A suspected chemical weapons attack at a Damascus site in mid-March has the government and rebels pointing fingers at each other. While the Assad regime held the rebels responsible for the attack, the opposition blamed the government. The United Nations has sought cooperation from Damascus in a probe on whether chemical weapons were used in an attack near the northern city of Aleppo. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has appointed Swedish nuclear scientist Ake Sellstrom, who was a UN chemical weapons inspector in Iraq, to head the probe.
New embassy in Doha
Giving a boost to the Arab effort for dislodging the Syrian government and adding more legitimacy to the opposition's claim to power, the Qatari government has hosted the first embassy of the Syrian embassy in Doha. The day after the Arab League Summit, an upbeat Al Khatib cutting the ribbon at the beige coloured building, in the presence of a leading Qatari minister and senior officials. The opposition's green, white and black flag with three stars was aflutter at the embassy, with no sign of the Syrian government's flag.
"We are here to open the first embassy in the name of the Syrian people who have been stripped of their right for 50 years," the leanly-built leader sporting a blue suit without a tie, said. The National Coalition has named envoys in Britain, France, Libya, Turkey and the US but is yet to open diplomatic missions in these countries.
The move to open the Doha embassy has also drawn criticism from Iran, a staunch ally of Bashar Al Assad and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. "Qatar's theatrical act in giving the Syrian Embassy to a group which is unelected is both hasty and irrational," Iran's official IRNA news agency quoted the deputy foreign minister in charge of Arab and African affairs, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, as saying.