Arab League ministers yesterday decided to let member nations arm Syrian rebels fighting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, and invited an opposition coalition to take the League seat formerly occupied by Damascus.
Previously the League had stressed that the Syrian political opposition and rebels should be supported by humanitarian and diplomatic means during the civil war, which has cost an estimated 70,000 lives.
However, a final statement issued at the end of a ministerial meeting in Cairo said they had “stressed the right of each state according to its wishes to offer all types of self defence, including military, to support the resilience of the Syrian people and the Free (Syrian) Army”.
Lebanon, Iraq and Algeria failed to endorse the final statement’s sections on Syria.
Arab League secretary-general Nabil al-Arabi told a news conference that the ministers had invited the opposition Syrian National Coalition - an umbrella body of anti-Assad political and rebel groups - to occupy the Syrian seat at the League.
This was held by Damascus until it was suspended from the organisation two years ago.
The statement called on the coalition to choose a representative to attend a League meeting that will be held in Doha on March 26-27. Excluding Syria, the League has 21 members.
Walid al-Bunni, spokesman for the opposition coalition, welcomed the decision as “better late than never” and said the organisation now wanted UN representation.
“We see this as a step towards asking for a seat in the UN and such important steps will eventually lead to the removal of Bashar al-Assad and put an end to his cruel regime,” he said.
Damascus was suspended from the Cairo-based League in November 2011, eight months into what began as a peaceful popular uprising against Assad but has turned into a civil war.
Moaz al-Khatib, a 52-year-old former preacher at the ancient Ommayad mosque in Damascus, was chosen in November to head the opposition coalition. He won pledges of support for the rebels from Western and Arab ministers in Rome late last month.
Meanwhile, a group of rebel fighters have seized a convoy of UN peacekeepers near the Golan Heights and say they will hold them captive until Assad’s forces pull back from a opposition-held village which has seen heavy recent fighting.
The capture was announced in rebel videos posted on the Internet and confirmed by the UN in New York, which said about 20 peacekeepers had been detained. Page 18
Assad regime blamed for bloodshed and damage
HE the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabor al-Thani yesterday blamed the Assad regime for the damage and bloodshed in Syria, stressing that the Arab resolutions had always pushed for a peaceful resolution.
“The person who brought a sea of blood is Bashar (al-Assad) because he did not commit to Arab decisions and did not co-operate with us,” Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim told the opening session of the 139th Arab League ministerial council meeting.
The Premier was responding to comments by Lebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour who claimed Arabs had left Syria to an unknown fate, waiting helplessly for others to solve the crisis. Mansour urged the Arab League to lift the suspension of Syria’s membership and bring it back to the pan-Arab organisation.
Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim said the Arabs did not go the West or to any foreign parties to settle the crisis, noting that the Arab League had been trying, over two years, to settle the crisis but the Syrian people were the losers at the end.