Syria’s opposition coalition left rudderless amid in-fighting and accusations of international inaction
Syria’s troubled opposition movement was plunged into disarray after the resignation of its leader and most popular figure, Moaz al-Khatib, who quit his post on Sunday citing a lack of support.
The western-backed leader also claimed that some groups were trying to hijack the Syrian revolution to advance their own interests. And, in a sign of further disunity in the ranks, Saam Idriss, a key leader of the opposition’s military wing, the Free Syria Army, said he refused to recognise the appointment last week of an interim prime minister.
Al-Khatib, a former imam of the Ummayad Mosque in Damascus, one of the holiest shrines in Islam, said he would continue to work for the revolution, but from outside a political framework that he said had achieved little apart from some aid relief.
His resignation came a week after an opposition alliance appointed a prime minister to lead an interim government, a move that was perceived by some observers as having diminished his standing.
Immediately after his nomination as interim leader, Ghassan Hitto, had distanced himself from Al-Khatib’s willingness to negotiate with elements of the Assad regime in a bid to bring an end to the civil war.
Al-Khatib’s readiness to talk marked the first time that any senior figure in the opposition had opened the door for a mediated end to the raging conflict. However, it drew sharp criticism from some other opposition leaders who insisted that good-faith negotiations could not be carried out with regime leaders.
The appointment of Hitto, an IT executive who joined the opposition last year after living in the US for 30 years, also led to the resignation of other senior figures, including Suhair Attasi, who has led a humanitarian effort.
Some opposition members claim Hitto is strongly backed by the Muslim Brotherhood, a powerful group in both the political and military wings of the opposition that is seen as being in the ascendancy with the civil war now into a third year.
The political bloc, led by Al-Khatib, and now Hitto, was tasked with unifiying civilian and military wings of the revolution, but has made little progress. Rebel groups inside Syria take few instructions from the political body and have little direct contact with its leaders.
Hours after Al-Khatib’s announcement on Sunday, the opposition’s general assembly announced it would not accept the move and asked him to return to his role. Qatar, which has played a prominent role in backing the political and military sides of the opposition, also urged him to stay on.
Speaking ahead of an Arab summit in Doha on Wednesday, Qatari foreign minister, Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani said he regretted Al-Khatib’s announcement. “I think this is a very important moment for the Syrians, especially while almost everyone agreed to give the seat of the Syrian state to the opposition,” he said.
The Syrian opposition has been offered to assume the position of official representative of Syria at the Arab League, which suspended the Assad-led Syrian state from membership of the organisation last year.
“So we hope things will get corrected,” Al-Thani said. “We feel it’s important for him not to lose this moment.”
Al-Khatib’s move to quit followed a meeting he held earlier on Sunday with the European Union, which he said had “achieved nothing”.
“Everything that happened to the Syrian people, from destruction of infrastructure, arrest of tens of thousands of their children and displacement of tens of thousands and other tragedies is not enough for the world to take an international decision to allow people to defend themselves,” he said in a statement.
“Those who are willing to obey [outside powers] will be supported, those who disobey will offered nothing but hunger and siege. We will not beg for help from anyone. If there is a decision to execute us as Syrians, then let’s die as we want. The gate of freedom has opened and will not be closed, not only for Syrians but for all peoples.”
US secretary of state, John Kerry, was sanguine at the news of the resignation.
“The notion he might resign has been expressed on many an occasion and is not a surprise,” he said, during a visit to Baghdad. “The opposition is more than one person.”