London, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Syrian National Coalition hailed on Monday afternoon the expulsion of the Syrian ambassador to Jordan as a “great victory” for the opposition.
The envoy, Bahjat Suleiman, was declared “persona non grata” by the Jordanian authorities and given 24 hours to leave, in a move that surprised observers in and outside the kingdom.
The expulsion of the Syrian envoy coincides with official Jordanian recognition of the appointment of a representative of the Coalition, the most prominent umbrella group of Syrian opposition movements, to Jordan.
The secretary-general of the Coalition, Badr Jamous, told Asharq Al-Awsat: “This is a great victory for the opposition . . . Bahjat Suleiman is not an ambassador in the conventional diplomatic sense; rather, he was a security figure who headed a branch of Homeland Security before he became an ambassador and contributed to intelligence-gathering on the Syrian opposition in Jordan.”
In a statement to state news agency Petra, Sabah Al-Rafie, a spokeswoman for the Jordanian foreign ministry, said Suleiman was being expelled because of his “continued offensive statements, through his personal contacts or writing in the media and the social media, against the Kingdom.”
Suleiman’s statements were a “departure from all diplomatic norms and conventions,” she added.
The Syrian government denounced the move as “reprehensible and unjustifiable.”
In a retaliatory move, the Syrian government announced that it was expelling the Jordanian chargé d’affaires.
The diplomat, currently outside Syria, will not be permitted to return, according to a statement quoted by Syrian state news agency SANA.
The Jordanian move caught many observers by surprise, as it has maintained diplomatic relations with the Syrian government since the outbreak of the conflict in the country in 2011, while most other Arab states have suspended ties in one form or another.
In addition, Syria’s membership of the Arab League was suspended at the end of 2011.