Last updated: 1 September, 2013

Syrian opposition chief urges Arabs to back Western strikes

Saudi Arabia and the head of the Syrian opposition National Coalition on Sunday made passioned appeals for US-led strikes on Syria, urging Arab nations to back them.

The calls were delivered in separate speeches by Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal and Coalition chief Ahmad al-Jarba at a meeting of Arab League foreign ministers in Cairo.

“I am here before you today to appeal to your brotherly and humanitarian sentiments and ask you to back the international operation against the destructive war machine” of the Syrian regime, Jarba told the Cairo meeting.

The Saudi foreign minister told his colleagues in the pan-Arab body, which is divided over the conflict, that opposing military intervention in Syria would encourage the Damascus regime to “pursue its crimes.”

“Opposition to international action only encourages the regime to pursue its crimes,” Prince Saud told the Arab League meeting.

“It is time to ask the international community to assume its responsibilities and to take deterrent measures” against the Syrian regime, he added.

Arab League foreign ministers had initially planned to meet on Tuesday to discuss an imminent US-led punitive strike on Syria for allegedly gassing civilians on August 21 in Damascus suburbs.

The meeting was brought forward to Sunday as US President Barack Obama said he was determined to launch a strike on Syrian regime targets and would seek congressional approval for it.

Washington says the alleged chemical attack killed hundreds of people and Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday that Washington had proof the Syrian regime used sarin gas.

The United States has pointed to the Arab League as a potential ally for military action against Syria but several member states of the Cairo-based organisation are opposed to a strike.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar, major backers of rebels fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, want firm action while other Arab states such as Syria neighbours Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan have ruled out joining any attack.

Earlier on Sunday, the Saudi foreign minister told a news conference that the international community must stop “the aggression against the Syrian people before these people perish.”

But he did not explicitly mention Obama’s call for a punitive strike on Syrian regime targets.

The Syrian opposition has expressed disappointment at the resident’s decision to delay military intervention until after a vote in Congress, which is not due to convene before September 9.