Arab League Gives Syrian Seat to Opposition

In a symbolic blow to embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad, Egyptian Foreign Minister Kamel Amr announced that the Arab League has decided to transfer Syria’s seat to opposition forces.

The decision is unlikely to mean much in practical terms to Assad’s regime, which has already been abandoned by many Arab states that are siding with rebel forces. But it reflects pressure by key rebel backers—Qatar and Saudi Arabia—for a show of Arab solidarity against Assad at a two-day Arab League Summit beginning Tuesday in Doha.

Amr Kamel said Sunday the Syrian opposition can now send an envoy to the summit.

But diplomatic sources did not specify whether the Syrian National Coalition would be given Syria’s seat which has been vacant since its suspension from the 22-member bloc in November 2011.

“Arab foreign ministers will decide on the issue of the seat” during a preparatory meeting in Doha on Sunday, an Arab League official said

Earlier, Qatar’s prime minister, Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, urged the new head of the Syrian opposition’s interim government, Ghassan Hitto, to attend.

The opposition alliance has begun steps to form an executive body to administer rebel-held territory inside Syria, electing Hitto at a meeting in Turkey earlier this week.

The league on March 6 called on the coalition “to form an executive body to take up Syria’s seat” and attend the summit which opens on Tuesday. Arab League foreign ministers agreed March 6 to let member nations arm Syrian rebels, and invited the opposition coalition to take the League seat formerly occupied by Damascus.

Previously the League had said only that the Syrian political opposition and rebels should be supported by humanitarian and diplomatic means.

Qatar and Saudi Arabia have championed Syrian rebels, and called on the U.N. Security Council to adopt resolutions to end the conflict that has also displaced hundreds of thousands of people.

But Lebanon distanced itself from the decision, while Algeria and Iraq expressed reservations.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari reiterated Baghdad’s reservations over recognizing the opposition as representatives of the Syrian people in the league.
“We have expressed reservations… for legal reasons,” he said at the ministerial meeting.

In Damascus, Syria`s regime accuses Qatar and its heavyweight neighbor Saudi Arabia of fanning the conflict by arming the rebels with Western connivance.

The Syrian conflict has killed more than 70,000 people since March 2011, prompted more than a million to flee abroad, and displaced four million more inside the country.