The Arab League has kicked off a two-day summit in Doha where opponents of President Bashar al-Assad are representing Syria for the first time.
|Richard Murphy, US ambassador to Syria during 1970s, tells Al Jazeera ‘momentum is with Syrian opposition’|
Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the emir of Qatar, opened the conference on Tuesday by inviting Moaz al-Khatib, the president of the Syrian National Coalition, to take Syria’s seat.
He told the audience of kings, emirs and presidents that he still supports a “political solution” to the crisis in Syria, but one that does not “rewind the clock.”
Al Thani also called for setting up a $1bn fund to protect the “Arabness of Jerusalem,” though he acknowledged that past promises to aid the Palestinians have gone unfulfilled.
“We are all obligated to work to defend Jerusalem…. the Arab states must swiftly and seriously act,” he said, adding that Qatar will contribute $250m to the fund.
Arab foreign ministers met in Doha on Sunday to prepare for the meeting. Fighting in Syria and Afghan government peace talks with the Taliban will be high on the agenda at the summit.
Khatib addressed the summit shortly after Al Thani, opening his speech with a bleak summary of the humanitarian crisis in Syria: tens of thousands killed, infrastructure destroyed, 25 percent of the country’s population displaced.
But he demanded additional support from both Arab and international powers. He tried to address the concerns of many Western countries, who fear that a post-Assad Syria could become intolerant towards minority groups and a breeding ground for militants.
He noted that Assad has killed thousands of Kurds, Christians and other minorities, and accused the government of carrying out “state terrorism.”
“Is it acceptable to tolerate state terrorism for two years?” he asked, alleging that “thousands” of Iranian and Russian fighters are aiding Assad’s government.
In an interview before the summit opened, Khatib tried to downplay talk that his resignation is a sign of the coalition’s impending collapse.
|Moaz al-Khatib, left, was picked as head of the Syrian coalition after it was formed in November [AFP]|
“What’s happening within the coalition is normal. It’s just like what happens in parliaments around the world,” he said. “There are differences of opinion.”
The 22-member league suspended Syria after al-Assad’s forces launched a bloody crackdown on dissent which has since turned into a civil war in which more than 70,000 people have been killed, UN figures show.
Khatib was picked as head of the coalition after it was formed in November. He was seen as a moderate defender against the rising influence of al-Qaeda-linked forces fighting in the revolt against al-Assad.
Khatib said in a written statement on Sunday that he was resigning so that he could work more freely.
In another Arab League summit first, Afghan president Hamid Karzai will discuss peace negotiations with the Taliban.
The breakthrough comes after years of stalled discussions with the United States, Pakistan and the Taliban.
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, a strong backer of the two-year-old Syrian rebellion, and Iraq’s president Jalal Talabani will be absent from the summit for health reasons.