03/26/2013, 00.00
MIDDLE EAST
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Rebels get Syria seat at the Arab League, but cracks appear

After resigning, the National Coalition president says he wants to give a speech "on behalf of the Syrian people." Whilst Qatar is accused of trying to dominate the opposition, its emir calls for action to protect the "Arabness of Jerusalem."

Doha (AsiaNews) - The Arab League kicked off its summit in Doha (Qatar) today with Syria's opposition at the top of its concerns. Following its November 2011decision to suspend Bashar al-Assad's regime, the League gave Syria's seat to his opponents.

As expected, the Assad regime reacted angrily, slamming the decision to give its seat "to bandits and thugs", but even within the League the decision was anything but quiet.

National Coalition leader Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib announced his resignation on Sunday, allegedly due to tensions within the body caused by charges against Qatar that it wants to dominate the opposition. Still, inside the group, his resignation is likely to be rejected.

However, despite his decision to quit, Khatib said he would address the summit "in the name of the Syrian people." Yet, the rebel coalition's own prime minister, Ghassan Hitto, a member of the delegation to Doha, is also in a position to speak to the meeting.

The uncertainty is a sign of internal divisions within the opposition but also of broader cracks within the Arab League itself. The decision to hand the seat to the opposition has in fact had its detractors, with reservations expressed by Iraq, Algeria and Lebanon.

The absence, ostensibly for health reasons of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, a strong backer of the two-year-old Syrian rebellion, and of Iraq's President Jalal Talabani, who is more ambivalent on the seat issue, is an another indication of divisions within the organisation.

Notwithstanding its importance, Syria is not the only item on the League's agenda. Arab leaders are also set to discuss the peace process between Israel and Palestine, currently at a standstill, especially in light of the silence on the 2002 Arab initiative that offered recognition to the Jewish state in exchange for a return to the 1967 borders.

On this issue, Qatar Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani said in his welcome speech that, in addition to support for a "political solution" to the Syrian crisis, he wanted to see the League do something to protect the "Arabness of Jerusalem."

In this regard though, he acknowledged that past promises to aid the Palestinians have gone unfulfilled.

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