Opposition leader Moaz Alkhatib visited rebel-held towns in north Syria for the
first time on Sunday as rebel fighters seized an army outpost outside
The capture of the police academy at Khan al-Asal, used by
President Bashar Assad’s forces as an artillery base to support troops still
holding around 40 percent of the northern city, came after days of fighting in
which rebels killed 150 soldiers, while sustaining heavy casualties, a rebel
In an attempt to consolidate those gains on the ground and
strengthen links between Assad’s military and civilian foes, Alkhatib crossed
into northern Syria from Turkey and toured the towns of Jarablus and
Earlier, he attended a meeting of 220 rebel commanders and
opposition campaigners in the Turkish city of Gaziantep to elect an
administration for the Aleppo province, home to 6 million
Alkhatib, a 52-year-old former preacher at the Umayyad Mosque in
Damascus, was chosen in November to head the coalition of political opposition
to Assad. He won modest pledges of support for the rebels from Western and Arab
ministers in Rome last week.
He has said he is ready for talks with
representatives of Assad’s government to help find a political solution to the
Assad, in an interview with British newspaper The Sunday
Times, said his government was prepared to talk to fighters who lay down their
weapons but insisted he would not leave the country or step aside under foreign
“We are ready to negotiate with anyone, including militants who
surrender their arms,” he said according to a transcript released by state
media. However, there would be no talks with “terrorists who are determined to
carry weapons,” he added.
“We have to be clear about this. We have
opposition that are political entities and we have armed terrorists. We can
engage in dialogue with the opposition, but we cannot engage in dialogue with
We fight terrorists.”
Alkhatib’s opposition coalition
says that any talks must focus on Assad’s departure, while rebel leaders have
set even tougher conditions, insisting he depart before they start
But Assad, who inherited power from his father in 2000, said he
was not going anywhere. “No patriotic person will think about living outside his
country. I am like any other patriotic Syrian,” he told the newspaper.
response to calls from some Western and Arab governments for him to go, Assad
replied, “Only [the] Syrian people can tell the president: Stay or leave, come
In the same interview, Assad said he would react to Israel’s
alleged bombing of a research center in his country.
Assad told the paper
that Syria had always retaliated to Israeli actions, “but we retaliated in our
own way, and only the Israelis know what we mean. Retaliation does not mean
missile for missile or bullet for bullet. Our own way does not have to be
At the beginning of February, Assad accused Israel of trying
to destabilize his country by attacking a military research base outside
Damascus, and warning Syria could “confront threats... and aggression” against
Israel has not confirmed its involvement in the Syrian attack.
However, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, hinted in comments he made at a Munich
Security Conference in February that Israel was behind the attack.
cannot add anything to what you have read in the newspapers about what happened
in Syria several days ago,” he said. “But I keep telling frankly that we said –
and that’s another proof when we say something, we mean it – we say that we
don’t think [Syria] should be allowed to bring advanced weapons systems into
Lebanon, and [nor should] Hezbollah [bring weapons] from Syria when Assad
Stay on top of the news - get the Jerusalem Post headlines direct to your inbox!