News / Middle East

Syrian Opposition in Turmoil as Khatib Quits, Hitto Rejected

Syrian opposition chairman Sheikh Mouaz Al-Khatib (center, left) chats with the Coalition’s newly elected interim prime minister, Ghassan Hitto (center right).Syrian opposition chairman Sheikh Mouaz Al-Khatib (center, left) chats with the Coalition’s newly elected interim prime minister, Ghassan Hitto (center right).
Syrian opposition chairman Sheikh Mouaz Al-Khatib (center, left) chats with the Coalition’s newly elected interim prime minister, Ghassan Hitto (center right).
Syrian opposition chairman Sheikh Mouaz Al-Khatib (center, left) chats with the Coalition’s newly elected interim prime minister, Ghassan Hitto (center right).
Syria's opposition movement was in disarray Sunday, as the head of the main exiled opposition group resigned, and rebels inside the country rejected the group's appointment of an interim prime minister. 
Syrian National Coalition leader Mouaz al-Khatib announced his resignation on his Facebook page. He complained that the international community has not done enough to help the Syrian people defend themselves from the forces of President Bashar al-Assad, who has been fighting a two-year rebellion against his autocratic rule. 
In his statement, Khatib said he is keeping his promise to resign if members of his coalition crossed certain "red lines." He did not say what those are. Khatib had objected to last week's coalition appointment of American-educated businessman Ghassan Hitto as an interim prime minister for rebel-held parts of Syria. 
Hitto's appointment at an opposition meeting in Istanbul weakened Khatib's authority as coalition chief. 
Rebels defiant
The opposition's turmoil deepened, with a rebel spokesman inside Syria saying the mainstream Free Syrian Army refuses to recognize Hitto as prime minister. Louay Almokdad told Western news agencies that Hitto was not properly elected because there was no consensus on his candidacy.  
Other rebels have said they do not need a prime minister because they already are governing areas under their control. 
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he was sorry to hear of Khatib's resignation. But, speaking in Baghdad Sunday, the top U.S. diplomat said the Syrian opposition is "bigger than one person" and leadership changes within it are "almost inevitable." Kerry said Washington has worked closely with Hitto in the delivery of aid to Syria and has confidence in his abilities. 
Hitto received a majority 35 votes out of 48 cast at last Tuesday's coalition meeting. But several prominent dissidents boycotted the vote, accusing Hitto of being a pawn of Syria's Muslim Brotherhood and outside powers such as Qatar, which welcomed his election. 
Moderate record
Khatib, a moderate Islamist, had led the coalition since November, when the exiled movement restructured itself to try to present a more united front to its Western and Arab backers. 
He fled Syria last year after winning the respect of many Syrians for serving as the preacher of Damascus' Umayyad Mosque and opposing Assad's rule, despite being jailed several times. 
Earlier this year, Khatib offered a dialogue with Syrian officials in return for the mass release of opposition detainees, angering coalition members who insist on Mr. Assad's ouster before any talks. Damascus ignored the proposal. 
In his Facebook message, Khatib said his resignation will enable him to support the Syrian revolution with a "freedom that is not available inside the official institutions." 
Arab League awaits
Arab diplomats said Sunday the Arab League had invited Khatib and Hitto to represent Syria at a two-day summit in the Qatari capital, Doha, beginning Tuesday. It is not clear which Syrian opposition figures will attend. The Arab League suspended the Assad government's membership in the bloc in 2011, and most members have called for his ouster. 
Carnegie Middle East Center director Paul Salem said the Syrian opposition has been plagued by infighting since the start of the anti-Assad revolt in 2011. "The opposition has been very disunited, not presenting a convincing front either to those fighting inside Syria or to the regional or international community which would want to help them." 
In one positive development for the opposition, some members of President Assad's minority Alawite sect gathered in Cairo on Sunday to express support for the rebellion and distance themselves from his government. Syrian activists have long accused Assad of scaring Alawites into believing they face slaughter by majority Sunni rebels if his government falls. 
Rebel gains in south
In the latest fighting in Syria, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebels have seized a 25-kilometer strip of land near Syria's southern border with Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. The group said the rebels captured several military checkpoints in the strategic region in recent days, further weakening Mr. Assad's control. 
Israel said its forces in the Golan returned fire at a Syrian position on Sunday. It was not clear if Syrian troops or rebels triggered the Israeli response. Israeli troops have come under fire from Syrian territory several times in recent weeks, prompting Israel to warn that it will hold the Syrian government accountable for any breaches of a decades-old cease-fire between the two longtime enemies.
Elizabeth Arrott in Cairo contributed to this report.

Michael Lipin

Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin

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Comment Sorting
March 24, 2013 10:40 PM
Very sad affairs. ALL sponsors of syrian peoples painful life must learn that this opposition is hungry of power as to enjoy their life at the cost of common syrian. They do not have plan or even thinking to serve syrian peoples. Those who wants to change the regime must know the facts that this opposition can create more and more problems to common people with the funding of Saudi arabia, Qatar and Turkey. The weapons from West will be used to increase mess of common people.

by: Dr. Dorathea Ludlum from: EUC
March 24, 2013 4:06 PM
We have known for a considerable time by now that the whole orchestration of the "Syrian Opposition" has been a facade of the Muslim Brotherhood - including the affiliation with Al Qaeda and Al Nusra and Hamas. What is new to us is the extent to which the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has been commandeering international food donations from Europe and selling it at cut throat prices to the ordinary Egyptian citizens... using starvation as a tool of coercion to cement their permanent political hold on power. if this is not revoltingly cruel, it is quite expected of this squalid terrorist movement.
In Response

by: Suleiman Hamdi from: Lebanon
March 24, 2013 6:12 PM
How does Hizbullah differ from the Muslim Brotherhood ?? both are "squalid terrorist movements" yet the EU has never managed to designate Hizbullah a terrorist entity... how come?? they are destroying my country!! - I would argue that the Hizbullah is far more malignant than the Muslim Brotherhood.

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