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Applause as opposition takes Syria seat at Arab summit
by Staff Writers
Doha (AFP) March 26, 2013

Doha summit gives Arab states 'right' to arm Syria rebels
Doha (AFP) March 26, 2013 - Arab League leaders gathered for an annual summit in Doha on Tuesday gave member states the "right" to offer Syrians all means of self-defence, including arms supplies.

The Arab summit affirms 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," a resolution said.

However, "efforts aimed at reaching a political solution to the Syrian crisis are a priority," it added.

The Damascus government charges that summit host Qatar and heavyweight neighbour Saudi Arabia have long since been arming the rebels.

Arab leaders confirmed the opposition National Coalition "will take Syria's seat at the Arab League and in its organisations, until elections lead to the formation of a government."

Iraq and Algeria have expressed reservations over seating the opposition. Lebanon has distanced itself.

Syria's seat had been vacant since the suspension of President Bashar al-Assad's regime in November 2011 over its rejection of a peace plan that would have required him to step down.

UN excludes major powers from Syria chemical arms inquiry
United Nations (AFP) March 26, 2013 - The United Nations on Tuesday named a Swedish scientist to lead an inquiry into the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria, but has barred experts from the major powers from taking part, officials said Tuesday.

UN leader Ban Ki-Moon appointed Ake Sellstrom of Sweden, a veteran of 1990s arms investigations in Iraq, to head the inquiry. No definitive mandate for the inquiry has been announced, although the UN said the aim is not to find who staged the alleged attacks.

Ban has told the UN Security Council permanent members -- the so-called P5 of Britain, China, France, Russia and United States -- that they will not be allowed to take part, diplomats said.

The decision was taken because of divisions over the worsening two-year-old war between President Bashar al-Assad's forces and opposition rebels, diplomats said.

Russia, Assad's main international backer, has made clear its irritation at being excluded. Russia expressed its "willingness" to take part in the investigation, Russia's UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, told reporters.

"We were told that the secretariat preferred to have a team which would exclude P5 members," he added.

"We do not fully share this kind of attitude but the main thing is for it to be as objective a team as possible," Churkin said. "So we will see what kind of group that will be and what will be the results of their work."

Syria asked for an investigation last week into its allegation that the opposition used chemical weapons in Aleppo on March 19. Britain and France have demanded that the inquiry also look into opposition accusations that the government used chemical arms in Aleppo and near Damascus.

Russia has strongly backed the Syria demand that the investigation be limited.

The UN has only said that the "initial focus" of the inquiry will be the Syrian government allegations.

UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said "the terms of reference for the mission are being finalized," including the composition of the inquiry team. No timetable has been set for the work to start.

"It is not a criminal investigation, it is a technical mission," said Nesirky. The investigators will be "aimed at ascertaining whether chemical weapons were used and not by whom."

Sellstrom, the head of the inquiry, is currently senior researcher at the European Center for Advanced Studies of Societal Security and Vulnerability, specializing in major incidents with chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive substances.

Syrian opposition chief Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib said Tuesday he had asked that NATO's Patriot missile system be extended to protect rebel zones inside the war-torn country, as he took up Syria's seat in the Arab League for the first time.

Launching into a fiery speech after leading a delegation into a Doha summit to thunderous applause from Arab leaders, Khatib also demanded that the opposition be allowed to represent Syria at the United Nations.

"I have asked (US Secretary of State) Mr John Kerry during our meeting to provide Patriot (missile protection) that encompasses northern Syria, and he has promised to look into the matter," Khatib told the summit.

"We are still awaiting a decision from NATO on this matter."

NATO's sole involvement in Syria's brutal civil war to date has been to position Patriot missile batteries along the Turkish border in order to prevent any air or missile launches from the Syrian side.

Khatib, who threw the opposition into disarray by announcing his resignation on Sunday, made it clear that he was still firmly at the helm of the Syrian National Coalition, the main Syrian opposition umbrella grouping.

Taking the seat reserved for the delegation head at the invitation of Qatar Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Khatib was flanked by other senior opposition figures including prime minister Ghassan Hitto.

There had been confusion over whether the delegation would be headed by Khatib or by Hitto, in the wake of the Coalition leader's resignation.

Khatib however was the one who did the speaking, after the opposition flag was raised in place of the official Syrian bunting.

"We demand ... all forms of support from our friends and brothers including our full right for self-defence and the seat of Syria at the United Nations and at other international organisations," he told the summit.

He called for a "freezing of the funds of the regime which it had stolen from our people," estimated by the opposition at around two billion dollars.

He also stressed that the Syrian people alone would determine the future of their country.

"They ask who will rule Syria. The people of Syria will decide, not any other state in this world," Khatib said, possibly alluding to accusations by Damascus that the rebels are implementing Qatari and Saudi agendas.

"The Syrian people's decisions are based on its interests. It rejects any foreign mandates," he said.

In his speech, Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi described the Coalition as "the sole and legitimate representative of the Syrian people after it succeeded in forming an interim government."

The seat has been empty since the Arab League suspended Syria's membership in November 2011 after Damascus rejected an Arab proposal to end violence against protesters and instead pressed a bloody crackdown on dissent.

The Arab Spring-inspired protests morphed into an armed rebellion against Assad's regime and later into a civil war in which more than 70,000 people have been killed so far, according to UN figures.

Damascus reacted furiously to the decision of the 22-member grouping.

"Shame on you, Arab brothers," wrote Tishreen state-owned daily, branding the Arab League decision as a "theft".

"This theft that the sheikhdom of Qatar and other collaborator, treacherous, backward Arab regimes have committed by handing the Doha-sponsored Coalition the Syrian state's membership... is a legal, political and moral crime," it said.

Khatib in his address made no mention of his resignation, but ahead of the summit he had said it would be dealt with after the meeting is over.

Coalition spokesman Khaled al-Saleh said that Khatib's resignation "has not been accepted" and that "most members of the coalition want him to continue to lead" at this time.

Khatib in his speech on Tuesday pointedly expressed his confidence in Hitto.

"We trust him. The general assembly of the coalition awaits his programme to debate it," he said.


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