Syrian opposition leader calls on Alawites to rise up

MARRAKECH, Morocco Wed Dec 12, 2012 6:29am EST

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MARRAKECH, Morocco (Reuters) - The leader of Syria's opposition coalition called on the country's Alawite minority on Wednesday to launch a campaign of civil disobedience against President Bashar al-Assad, an Alawite who faces a mainly Sunni Muslim uprising against his rule.

Mouaz Alkhatib also told a meeting in Morocco that the opposition would hold world powers, particularly Russia, responsible if Assad uses chemical weapons against rebel fighters. He urged Iran to withdraw personnel he said were supporting Assad in the 20-month-old Syrian conflict.

"We send a direct message to the Alawite brethren. The Syria revolution is extending its hand to you, so extend your hand back and start civil disobedience against the regime because it repressed you like it repressed us," Alkhatib told the "Friends of Syria" ministerial meeting in Marrakech.

"We hold the international community, and especially Russia, fully responsible, if the regime uses chemical weapons against our people," he added, calling on Moscow to end its political and military support for Assad.

Alkhatib, elected last month as leader of the National Coalition for Opposition Forces and the Syrian Revolution, also called on Assad's allies Iran and Hezbollah to withdraw their support.

"We demand that Iran withdraws all of its experts from Syria and we demand the leadership of Hezbollah to withdraw all of its fighters if found in Syria, because their blood must not be spilt defending callous and antiquated regime," he said.

(Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis and Samia Nakhoul; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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