Qatar to hand over Syrian embassy to opposition

Qatar to hand over Syrian embassy to opposition

The opposition Syrian National Coalition (SNC) will gain control of the Syrian embassy building in Doha, the Qatari government decided Wednesday, in a move further boosting the SNC's status, DPA reported.

"Qatar has decided to hand over the Syrian embassy building in Doha to Mr Nizar al-Haraki after his appointment as ambassador for the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces," the coalition said.

Al-Haraki, 51, hails from Daraa in southern Syria, the cradle of the uprising - which started in March 2011 - against the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

"The flag of the revolution will be raised above the embassy building," said the coalition. It did not specify a date for the handover.

The National Coalition was formed in November and has since been recognized by many countries, including Western powers and wealthy Gulf countries.

The coalition has named envoys to France and Britain, but neither of those countries has handed Syrian embassy facilities to the opposition.

"We regard this step as very positive. We hope other friendly countries will do the same," Walid al-Bunni, spokesman for the coalition, said.

In Cairo, the Arab League ruled out handing Syria's seat in the pan-Arab bloc to the opposition.

"This is unlikely," said Ahmed Bin Heli, the organization's deputy head.

The League has suspended Syria's membership to protest al-Assad's clampdown on dissenters.

Bin Heli also said the organization would not be represented at a meeting that the Syrian National Coalition has scheduled in Cairo on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Jihad Makdissi, a former spokesman for the Syrian Foreign Ministry, said he left his country last year due to what he called "destructive" violence.

He added, in his first comment since disappearing in December, that the violence in Syria left no place for "moderation and diplomacy."

Makdissi, who did not disclose his whereabouts, said those struggling against al-Assad's regime had rightful demands "that no one could deny."

In Syria itself, activists said 200 people were killed in violence across the country, most of whom were in the northern provinces of Idlib and Aleppo, where opposition fighters reportedly pushed to capture more military bases, a day after they overran a key airbase.

"Our focus now, especially in the north, is to capture all major military bases and cut all major ammunition routes for the regime forces," said Abu Alaa, a commander in the rebel Free Syrian Army based near the northern city of Aleppo.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebels took control of a strategic army base, known as Base 80. The captured base was key for securing the nearby Aleppo international airport.

Syrian insurgents Tuesday overran the al-Jarrah military airport near Aleppo, where they said had seized usable warplanes for the first time since the start of the conflict.

Earlier in the week, rebels claimed control of the Euphrates Dam in the northern area of Raqa.

The state-Run Syrian News Agency SANA, on its part, said Army units managed Wednesday to destroy several rebel hideouts in Aleppo and in Jabal al Zawiyeh, in Ildib.

Meanwhile, the Syrian Foreign Ministry denied media reports that linked the visit of Syria's Foreign minister Walid al-Moallem to Moscow with the visit of the head of Syria's opposition National Coalition, Moaz al-Khatib.

"The Ministry, which welcomes the invitation of Russia to Minister al-Moallem to visit Moscow and meet his Russian Counterpart Sergey Lavrov ... insists on the Syrian position which stipulates that Damascus' doors are open for dialogue with the opposition on the Syrian land ...," SANA quoted a ministry statement as saying.

Russia Today television quoted Moscow's deputy foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov as saying that al-Moallem and al-Khatib will visit Moscow by the end of February.

Final dates for both visits were still being agreed upon, Bogdanov.

The visit by the two officials came several days after al-Khatib called for dialogue with representatives of the Syrian regime to end the 22-month crisis in the war-torn country.

Al-Khatib was invited to Moscow on February 2 on the sidelines of the Munich security conference.

Russia is a main supporter of al-Assad's regime and, along with China, has used its veto power in the UN Security Council to protect Damascus from international sanctions.

In Washington, US Secretary of State John Kerry stressed that al-Assad's downfall was inevitable and that the international community must work to change his intention to stay in power.

"We need to address the question of President Assad's calculation currently," Kerry said after discussing the situation in Syria with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh in Washington. "I believe there are additional things that can be done to change his current perception."

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