Syria opposition takes Arab summit seat

In a snub to Syria President Bashar al-Assad his opposition takes a seat at the Arab summit.

In a snub to Syria President Bashar al-Assad his opposition takes a seat at the Arab summit.

DOHA - To applause from Arab heads of state, a foe of Bashar al-Assad took Syria's vacant seat at an Arab summit on Tuesday, deepening the president's diplomatic isolation and diverting attention from rifts among his opponents.

Speaking at an annual gathering of Arab leaders in the Gulf state of Qatar, Moaz Alkhatib said he had asked US Secretary of State John Kerry for American forces to help defend rebel-controlled northern parts of Syria with Patriot surface-to-air missiles now based in Turkey. NATO swiftly rebuffed the idea.

"It was a historic meeting," said Syrian opposition spokesman Yaser Tabbara. "It's a first step towards acquiring full legal legitimacy."

The 22-nation League lent its support to giving military aid to Syrian rebels. A summit communiqué offered some of its toughest language yet against Assad, affirming member states had a right to offer assistance "including military, to support the steadfastness of the Syrian people and the Free Army".

Alkhatib said the United States, which has given non-military aid to Syrian rebels, should play a bigger role in helping end the two-year-old conflict in Syria, blaming Assad's government for what he called its refusal to solve the crisis.

"I have asked Mr. Kerry to extend the umbrella of the Patriot missiles to cover the Syrian north and he promised to study the subject," he said, referring to NATO Patriot missile batteries sent to Turkey last year to protect Turkish airspace.

"We are still waiting for a decision from NATO to protect people's lives, not to fight but to protect lives," he added, addressing a body that barred Assad's government in late 2011.

Responding to Alkhatib's remarks, an official of the Western military alliance at its headquarters in Brussels said: "NATO has no intention to intervene militarily in Syria."

Turkey, which reported a mortar landing harmlessly on its border on Tuesday, said it was up to the rest of NATO to decide if members wanted to expand the remit of the Patriot batteries.

Michael Stephens, a researcher based in Qatar for Britain's Royal United Services Institute, said acceding to Alkhatib's request would effectively put NATO at war with Damascus.