Opposition takes Syria seat at Arab League summit

There was applause as the Emir of Qatar invited Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib to take the seat

Syria's opposition National Coalition has taken the country's official seat at the Arab League summit in Qatar.

The delegation led by Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, who has said he will resign as head of the coalition, was applauded as it formally assumed the seat.

Mr Khatib called it "part of the restoration of legitimacy" of which Syrians had "long been robbed".

Later, the Arab League authorised member states to give military support to Syrian rebel groups.

A resolution said the summit affirmed the "right of every state to offer all forms of self-defence, including military, to support the resistance of the Syrian people and the Free Syrian Army".

Meanwhile, Syrian state media reported that three people had been killed and several others wounded in a suicide car bombing in the northern Rukn al-Din district of Damascus.

Shells were also said to have landed in the centre of the capital.

In the city of Homs, government troops were reported to have seized back control of the hotly-contested district of Baba Amr after two weeks of fighting.

Start Quote

I convey to you the greetings of the orphans, widows, the wounded, the detained and the homeless”

End Quote Ahmed al-Khatib Syrian opposition leader

And at least 13 burned bodies were found in the village of Abel, just outside Homs, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based activist group.

In another development on Tuesday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Swedish scientist Ake Sellstrom would head a UN mission investigating the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria.

The Syrian government and rebels accused each other of firing a rocket containing poison gas at a village near the city of Aleppo earlier this month.

'Bandits and thugs'

The BBC's Jim Muir in Beirut says Syria's opposition won an important diplomatic victory when it took over the country's seat at the Arab League summit in Doha.

Mr Khatib was joined by the National Coalition's vice-presidents, George Sabra and Suheir Atassi, and its recently-elected interim prime minister, Ghassan Hitto.

The Syrian flag was replaced at the country's official seat with the green, white and black flag of the former Syrian Republic, which existed before the Baath Party and the Assad family came to power, and is used by the opposition.

The move angered the government in Damascus, which accused the Arab League of handing the seat to "bandits and thugs".

Mr Khatib gave an impassioned speech in the name of the 100,000 people he said had given their lives in the struggle so far, and the many others who have been wounded, tortured or imprisoned.

Scene of suspected car bomb, Damascus. 26 March 2013 Syrian state media showed images of what was described as a suicide bomb attack in Damascus

"I convey to you the greetings of the orphans, widows, the wounded, the detained and the homeless," he said.

He rejected attempts by some outside powers to control Syrian decisions, saying the country's future would be decided by the Syrian people alone.

And he also rejected all the reasons advanced by Western powers and others for the reluctance to provide the Syrian opposition with the means to defend the people because of concerns about arming foreign Islamist fighters.

"I don't know if the real issue has to do with whether he's a foreigner or he has a beard," he remarked.

Mr Khatib also said he had asked the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, to establish a defensive Patriot missile shield over northern Syria to protect people and allow refugees to return home.

He said he was awaiting a response from Nato on the issue. It was not long in coming, our correspondent adds, with officials repeating their position that the alliance had no intention of intervening militarily in Syria.

The National Council's seat at the Arab League comes at a time of disarray within its top ranks.

Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib - seen as a respected and unifying figure in Syria - announced his resignation on Sunday, a move so far rejected by the coalition.

He said he had promised to resign if certain "red lines" were reached. Although he did not specify what those red lines were, he did accuse world powers of failing to adequately protect the Syrian people.

But analysts say Mr Khatib is also concerned by the influence of Islamists and foreign powers like Qatar in the opposition coalition.

And his resignation came days after Mr Hitto, a US-based Islamist, was elected by the opposition to be prime minister of an alternative administration that could govern rebel-held areas from inside Syria.

Mr Khatib considered the move premature, and observers say he may have feared the move would further distance the exiled opposition leadership from what is going on inside Syria.

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