Middle East

Syria crisis: Arab League welcomes new opposition bloc

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Media captionThe Arab League urged other opposition parties to join the national coalition

The Arab League has welcomed the formation of a new coalition of Syrian opposition forces, and has called on other opposition parties to join it.

The National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces was unveiled in Doha on Sunday.

The Arab League stopped short of giving the group full recognition as the sole representative of Syrian people.

The new group is aimed at uniting the various factions seeking to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.

The Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim said the league's ministerial council called for "political and material support" for the new grouping.

The league "urges regional and international organisations to recognise it as a legitimate representative for the aspirations of the Syrian people," Sheikh bin Jassim said.

Earlier, six Gulf states had also recognised the new coalition as the country's "legitimate representative".

Western nations and Turkey have also welcomed the coalition's creation.

However, some members of the Arab League, such as Iraq and Lebanon, were still "not fully supportive of the Syrian revolt", and are reluctant to delegitimise Mr Assad, an unnamed Arab League official told Reuters.

Observers and activists estimate that more than 36,000 people have been killed in the long-running uprising against President Assad.

Hundreds of thousands have sought refuge in neighbouring countries.

International recognition

Western and regional powers have in recent weeks put pressure on a hitherto fractious Syrian opposition to create a unified, credible body that could become a conduit for all financial and possibly military aid.

The Syrian National Council (SNC), the previously dominant opposition umbrella group which is widely viewed as divided and ineffective, will control 22 of the 60 seats on the National Coalition's leadership council.

The new coalition's president is Moaz al-Khatib, a former imam of the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus who fled Syria this year.

US state department spokesman Mark Toner the US was looking forward "to supporting the National Coalition as it charts a course toward the end of Assad's bloody rule".

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said the move was a "milestone in forming a broad and representative opposition that reflects the full diversity of the Syrian people".

Western efforts to support the Syrian opposition have been hampered by Russia and China, which have blocked three UN Security Council resolutions seeking to pressure Mr Assad to end the conflict.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmed Davutoglu said the international community had "no excuse any more" not to support the opposition.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said only that his country supported a political transition "led by the Syrian people as soon as possible."

Russia said the National Coalition should seek "a peaceful resolution of the conflict by Syrians themselves, without external interference, through dialogue and negotiations".

Mr Khatib, 52, left for Cairo in July after several periods of detention by the Syrian authorities for criticising President Assad. He is seen as a moderate.

"We demand freedom for every Sunni, Alawite, Ismaili (Shia), Christian, Druze, Assyrian ... and rights for all parts of the harmonious Syrian people," he said after being elected president of the National Coalition.

The group, formed after a week of talks in Doha, has two vice-presidents - prominent dissident Riad Seif and the leading female secular activist, Suhair al-Atassi.

Delegates said the leadership council would include representation for ethnic Kurds, Christians, Alawites and women. There will also be a military council that will reportedly include the Free Syrian Army (FSA).