Syria rebels win Arab League seat despite rifts; U.N. pulls staff from Damascus

AFP

Rebels won Syria’s long-vacant seat at the Arab League on Monday, on the eve of the organization’s annual summit in Doha, despite rifts within the opposition that have marred their political gains.

Away from the politics, rebel Free Syrian Army commander Riad al-Asaad was wounded in a blast that hit his car in the east of the country, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

A government official in Ankara said al-Asaad had lost a leg in the attack Sunday night but was in “good condition” after being rushed across the Syrian border into Turkey for treatment.

The opposition Syrian National Coalition, meanwhile, “has been invited to the Arab summit and will occupy Syria’s seat” at the 22-member Arab League, a senior official in Doha said.

Damascus reacted with fury to the announcement.

“The (Arab) League has handed Syria’s stolen seat to bandits and thugs,” Syrian government daily Al-Thawra said. “They have forgotten that it is the people who grant the powers and not the emirs of obscurantism and sand,” it said, in an apparent allusion to key opposition supporters Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

The news came a day after opposition leader Mouaz al-Khatib announced his resignation. Al-Khatib, however, said he would address the summit “in the name of the Syrian people,” while the coalition’s envoy to Doha, Nizar al-Haraki, said al-Khatib will head the delegation Tuesday.

Back on the front lines of the conflict, a civilian plane was hit by antiaircraft fire Monday as it flew over the Idlib region of northwestern Syria, activists said.

A U.N. spokesman, meanwhile, said the U.N. is removing about half of its 100 international staffers posted in Syria as attacks edge closer to the buildings of the world body in Damascus.