CAIRO Europe should recognize a Syrian opposition coalition as a provisional government, enabling it to seek weapons for the fight against President Bashar al-Assad, the new body's leader said on Tuesday.
Mouaz Alkhatib, a moderate Sunni Muslim cleric who fled to Cairo in July after repeated detentions by Syrian secret police, was elected on Sunday to head the coalition forged in Qatar last week to try to create a more coherent, inclusive opposition.
"I request the European states to recognize the coalition politically as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people and to give it financial support," Alkhatib, 52, told Reuters in a telephone interview in the Egyptian capital.
"When we get the political recognition, this will make the coalition act as a government and hence acquire weapons and this will solve our problems," he said.
Arab and European foreign ministers were meeting in Cairo on Tuesday to discuss how to help the opposition assembly, which received tentative Arab League endorsement the day before.
Six Gulf Arab states have recognized the new body as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people and it has won statements of support, but not full recognition, from the United States, European states and the Arab League.
"I understand that more recognition will come in future," Alkhatib said. "The coalition is still very new and ... nations need to see its work on the ground .... before reacting to it."
He called for political, financial, humanitarian and military support to help end four decades of Assad family rule.
The soft-spoken former imam of a Damascus mosque has made a concerted effort to address the sectarian and ethnic acrimony underlying 20 months of civil war that has killed 38,000 people.
"The way out has to start politically with a credible and recognized entity to act as a united front that the world sees as an alternative to the current regime," Alkhatib said.
"From there we could work on forming a new government, have a stronger presence and then the regime would fall."
(Reporting by Yasmine Saleh; Writing by Shaimaa Fayed; Editing by Alistair Lyon)