DAMASCUS, Syria: Syria’s opposition took over the country’s seat for the first time at an Arab summit Tuesday in a diplomatic triumph marred by severe divisions in the ranks of the Western-backed opposition alliance.
The opposition’s ascension to representing the country at the summit in Qatar, a key backer of those fighting to topple President Bashar Assad, demonstrated the extent of the regime’s isolation two years into a ferocious civil war that the U.N. says has killed an estimated 70,000 people.
In Damascus, the government on Tuesday blasted the Arab League’s decision, portraying it as a selling-out of Arab identity to please Israel and the United States.
“The shameful decisions it [Arab League] has taken against the Syrian people since the beginning of the crisis and until now have sustained our conviction that it has exchanged its Arab identity with a Zionist-American one,” said an editorial in the Al-Thawra newspaper, a government mouthpiece.
The Qatari ruler, who chaired the summit, said the Syrian opposition deserves “this representation because of the popular legitimacy they have won at home and the broad support they won abroad and the historic role they have assumed in leading the revolution and preparing for building the new Syria.”
In a further show of solidarity with anti-Assad forces, the Arab League endorsed the “right of each state” to provide the Syrian people and the Free Syrian Army with “all necessary means to … defend themselves, including military means.”
It was unclear whether the statement would open new weapons channels to fighters. But it would mark a symbolic slap of the U.S. and European allies that have resisted full-scale military aid to the rebels.
Fighting, meanwhile, raged on in Syria. Rebels barraged Damascus with mortar shells that killed at least three people and wounded dozens in one of the most intensive attacks on the seat of Assad’s power.