Syrian Opposition Leader Quits Post

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BEIRUT, Lebanon -- Moaz al-Khatib, the president of the main coalition of the Syrian opposition in exile, declared on Sunday that he was resigning, and complained bitterly about foreign powers that he said were withholding aid from the Syrian rebels while trying to control their every move.

The resignation of Mr. Khatib, who has pushed for talks between the Syrian government and its armed opponents, came five days after the coalition elected an interim prime minister, Ghassan Hitto, who rejects any such dialogue.

The announcement threw the Syrian Opposition Coalition into disarray. It underscored the challenges that the group still faced in establishing legitimacy and effective leadership, evn though it was recognized by dozens of countries four months ago as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.

Adding to the confusion, the coalition's media office said later on Sunday that Mr. Khatib had agreed to stay on, while a spokesman for Mr. Khatib said that he had not.

Mr. Khatib is a prominent imam who formerly preached at the revered Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, the Syrian capital; he sided early on with the revolution against the government of President Bashar al-Assad. His departure from the leadership of the coalition could set back the opposition's efforts to broaden its appeal and to reach a political resolution to the two-year-old conflict. Some in the coalition have criticized him for being willing to talk with some members of Mr. Assad's government, while others saw him as a moderate, ideally suited to reach out to Damascus residents who support the government or who fear the rebels. Though he is outside the country, Mr. Khatib had begun to build respect among some fighters inside Syria.

Mr. Khatib said the Syrian government had ignored his overtures, and he assailed foreign nations that he did not name for placing too many conditions on aid to the rebels and for trying to manipulate events for their own interests.

"They support whomever is ready to obey, and the one who refuses has to face starvation and siege," Mr. Khatib said in his statement. "We will not beg to satisfy anyone, and if there is a decision to execute us as Syrians, so let it be."

It was not clear which of the opposition's many frustrations Mr. Khatib, who is often cryptic in his public statements, was referring to: the reluctance of Western countries to deliver arms that they fear will fall into extremist's hands, or meddling in the choice of an interim prime minister, or both.

A coalition member who is familiar with Mr. Khatib's thinking and spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss politically sensitive matters said that Mr. Khatib resigned because of interference from Saudi Arabia, a key backer of the Syrian uprising. The member said that Saudi Arabia threatened to cut off financing and divide the coalition if its favored candidate for prime minister, Assad Mustafa, was not chosen. That demand enraged coalition members, who responded by quickly choosing Mr. Hitto, who was backed by Qatar and the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, the member said.

Mustafa Sabagh, another member of the coalition who is close to the Saudi government, denied that the Saudis had interfered, and said that he believed that Mr. Khatib had resigned over Western countries' conditions for supplying aid the uprising.

Mr. Khatib promised to keep working for the rebels' cause outside official channels. "The door to freedom has opened and won't close," he said, "not just in the face of Syrians but in the face of all peoples."

Another group of Syrian dissidents in exile, many of them Alawites -- the same minority as Mr. Assad, his family and his inner circle -- held a rare public gathering in Cairo to try to persuade more Alawites in Syria to abandon the government. One of the meeting's aims was to dispel the widely held notion that Syrian Alawites, who make up roughly 13 percent of the Syrian population, all march in lock step with Mr. Assad.

Alawites at the conference said that the mainly Sunni opposition coalition had failed to reassure Alawites that they would be safe if Mr. Assad fell, and had done little to persuade Syria's neighbors to shelter Alawites who decided to flee, several participants said.

Fears that the conflict in Syria would spill across borders widened Sunday when the Israeli military said that it had hit a Syrian military position. The strike came after two Israeli patrols came under fire from across the decades-old cease-fire line in the Golan Heights, the Israelis said, adding that the two patrols suffered no casualties.

Israel's new defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, warned in a statement that "any violation of Israeli sovereignty and fire from the Syrian side will be answered with the silencing of the source of fire," and added, "The Syrian regime is responsible for every breach of sovereignty. We will not allow the Syrian Army or any other groups to violate Israel's sovereignty in any way."

The Israelis did not say whether the Syrian position that was hit -- a machine gun emplacement -- belonged to Syrian government forces or to rebels.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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