Arab League gives hesitant welcome to Syria opposition coalition

CAIRO Mon Nov 12, 2012 6:31pm EST

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CAIRO (Reuters) - The Arab League welcomed on Monday the formation of a new Syrian opposition group, but stopped short of giving it full recognition as the representative of the Syrian people.

With some Arab states still reluctant to completely abandon Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Arab League foreign ministers meeting in Cairo were unable to state clearly that the new Syrian National Coalition was the sole legitimate Syrian voice.

Leaders of Syria's exiled opposition, beset by bickering and questions about how much influence they have on the ground, formed the new coalition on Sunday that is now seeking international recognition as a government-in-waiting.

"The Arab League ministerial council welcomes the agreement that the Syrian opposition parties reached ... and calls on the other opposition parties to join this coalition," said Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim, reading the meeting's final resolution late on Monday.

The ministers "urged regional and international organizations to recognize it as a legitimate representative for the aspirations of the Syrian people," and called it "a legitimate representative and a primary negotiator with the Arab League."

That was less clear than a statement by the six Sunni Muslim-ruled kingdoms of the Gulf Cooperation Council - which are also Arab League members - that the coalition was "the legitimate representative of the Syrian people".

"Reservations on the document came from Iraq and Algeria," said one League official, talking on condition of anonymity.

"Iraq's reservation was not clear but Algeria ... asked for more time before the Arab League can start dialogue with the opposition coalition. Algeria also had a reservation on the fact that this coalition did not represent all the opposition factions," said the official.

Lebanon, according to the final statement, refused to participate in the League's decision due to its sensitive position and relationship with Syria

(Reporting by Yasmine Saleh and Ayman Samir; Writing by Edmund Blair and Marwa Awad; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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