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Alkhatib Says NATO's Patriot Refusal Grants Assad Impunity - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Moaz Alkhatib talks to the press following his meeting with Arab League Secretary General Nabil ElAraby (not seen) in the League headquarters in Cairo on February 11, 2013. (AFP)

Moaz Alkhatib talks to the press following his meeting with Arab League Secretary General Nabil ElAraby (not seen) in the League headquarters in Cairo on February 11, 2013. (AFP)

Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—NATO’s refusal to respond to Alkhatib’s plea for Patriot missile-cover for rebel held areas of northern Syria will encourage the Al-Assad regime to continue to act with impunity, the Syrian National Coalition leader said on Wednesday.

Speaking to Reuters, Alkhatib said that he was “surprised” by the White House’s decision not to increase the range of the Patriot missiles “to protect the Syrian people”, adding, “I’m scared that this will be a message to the Syrian regime telling it ‘Do what you want.’”

Alkhatib also announced that he would not rescind his earlier resignation as leader of the umbrella Syrian opposition coalition, adding that he would continue to perform leadership duties for the time being. On Tuesday, Alkhatib took Syria’s seat at the Arab League, which represented an important step for the Syrian opposition, and a huge blow against the Damascus regime.

NATO’s refusal to extend the missile shield to encompass the rebel-held areas of Syria may have dire consequences for the Syrian rebels, particularly following the assassination attempt targeting Free Syrian Army [FSA] Commander Riad Al-Asaad last week. Asaad was badly wounded in an explosion in Deir El-Zour province while touring rebel-held areas of Syria. The FSA commander had to have his leg amputated after the blast in the town of Mayadeen on Sunday.

FSA deputy commander Colonel Malik Al-Kurdi accused forces affiliated to the Assad regime of being behind the assassination attempt targeting Asaad.

Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat, Colonel Kurdi said: “We point the finger of accusation at the regime and its forces which are spread throughout the country.”

He claimed that Asaad had just concluded touring a school in the area when an explosive device planted underneath his car was detonated.

Asaad was treated in a hospital in Istanbul. A video Uploaded on YouTube yesterday showed the FSA commander in his hospital bed. The almost unconscious commander could be seen crying out in Arabic: “I want to die.”

Kurdi stressed that the rumors that Asaad had been killed in the attack were deliberately spread by the FSA for fear that the Damascus regime would seek to target the FSA commander again.

He said: “We published conflicting reports, with some saying that he was wounded, and others claiming that he was killed, in order to spread misinformation until we could transfer him to another hospital in the Tell Abyad district of Ar-Raqqah Governorate. Following this, we moved him to a hospital in Turkey.”

Syrian National Coalition spokesman Haytham Al-Malih accused US and Syrian intelligence of being behind the assassination attempt. As for why Washington would seek to assassinate the leader of the FSA, which it is providing with material aid, he told Asharq Al-Awsat that there were two reasons for this. He said: “Firstly, the fact is that Asaad had begun talks about opening the Tartus front [on the Syrian coast] in a move to foil the partition plan that the US hopes will be successful. The second reason is that Asaad praised the actions of the Al-Nusra Front and has rejected any attempt to sideline it.”

However FSA Deputy Commander Colonel Kurdi rejected claims that Asaad was seeking to open a military front in Tartus. He told Asharq Al-Awsat: “These are military issues, and nobody knows the details and plans that we are taking or implementing, so nobody can speculate about these.”

He added: “We are committed to our objective and we will not stop our efforts until we topple this criminal regime. “

In related news, rebels stepped up attacks in the Syrian capital Damascus yesterday. A Car bomb killed at least three people, wounded dozens more, and blew the windows out of buildings in north-eastern Damascus. The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said civilians and soldiers were among the dead in the attack in the Rukri Al-Din district. Rebels on Monday said they were planning missile strikes on government and security sites in Damascus, advising residents to leave the city, as part of a campaign named “Operation Shaking the Fort.”