Cairo: The leader of Syria’s newly united opposition headed to Arab League headquarters in Cairo to push for diplomatic recognition on Monday, buoyed by the hard-won unity deal among the disparate factions.
Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, 52, a moderate Muslim cleric who quit Syria three months ago, was to be accompanied on his visit by Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani, whose government hosted the marathon four-day talks that culminated in Sunday’s agreement.
The deal to form a new broad-based opposition structure to take the 20-month uprising forward drew a warm welcome from Western governments that had expressed mounting frustration with the leadership divisions that have plagued the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
The new National Coalition wants to build on that support to win the sort of diplomatic recognition that the Libyan opposition won in its successful uprising against veteran dictator Moammar Gadhafi last year.
The Arab League suspended Assad’s government as part of a raft of sanctions it imposed last year and Syria’s seat in the 22-member bloc is currently vacant.
Qatar, which along with neighbouring Saudi Arabia has been a leading champion of the opposition, has already said it is ready to recognise a provisional government that the National Coalition plans to form.
The Qatari premier said he would press fellow Arab ministers at Monday’s talks in Cairo to do the same. “We will seek a full recognition of this new body,” Sheikh Hamad said.
Qatari minister of state for foreign affairs Khaled al-Attiya told Al-Jazeera television that recognition would remove any obstacles to the opposition’s securing arms for rebel fighters on the ground.
“When they get the legitimacy from the international arena they can go and contract whatever they want themselves, because they would be recognised as full legitimate government whether in exile or whether inside Syria,” he said in an interview to be broadcast on the “Talk to Al-Jazeera” programme.
The new opposition leader told the same programme that the coalition already had promises of weapons.
“In fact there are some friends—I can’t name them—they will help us,” Khatib said.
Under Sunday’s deal, the opposition agreed to establish a new supreme military council to take overall command of the various rebel groups on the ground and address US concerns that weapons have been getting into the hands of jihadist groups that are threatening to hijack the uprising.
The United States swiftly declared its backing for the new structure.
“We look forward to supporting the National Coalition as it charts a course toward the end of Assad’s bloody rule and the start of the peaceful, just, democratic future that all the people of Syria deserve,” State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said.
Traditional Damascus ally Moscow gave the new coalition a cooler response, calling on it to act in the interests of Syria and not foreign powers, and to reverse its rejection of any dialogue with the Assad regime.
“The main criteria for us is that members of such alliances must act based on a platform of peaceful regulation of the conflict by Syrians themselves, without interference from outside and through dialogue and negotiation,” the Russian foreign ministry said.
Analyst Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Centre, said the new opposition structure was a “potential game changer”.
“If it proves its credibility, this will no doubt shorten the time frame of the regime,” he said.
As the new opposition leader headed to Cairo, there was no let-up in the fighting on the ground which raged on the Turkish and Jordanian borders, as well as close to the armistice line with Israeli forces on the Golan Heights despite an appeal for restraint from UN chief Ban Ki-moon.
Air strikes and shelling of rebel positions in the town of Ras al-Ain on the Turkish border killed at least 12 people, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
One bomb exploded less than 150 metres (yards) from the border, with the force of the blast blowing out windows in houses in the adjacent Turkish town of Ceylanpinar, where there were also casualties, the town’s mayor told the Anatolia news agency.
On the Golan, troops and rebels again clashed close to the UN-monitored ceasefire line a day after a stray mortar round hit a position on the Israeli side drawing the first retaliatory fire onto the Syrian side since the 1973 Middle East war, the Observatory said.
And on the Jordanian border, fighting with rebels left two Syrian frontier guards dead. AFP