Skip to main content

Syrian opposition group turns down leader's resignation

By Amir Ahmed and Schams Elwazer, CNN
March 25, 2013 -- Updated 0018 GMT (0818 HKT)
Moaz al-Khatib said he had promised to step down if certain
Moaz al-Khatib said he had promised to step down if certain "red lines" were met.
  • NEW: Opposition leader in Syria wanted to resign but alliance rejected his request
  • NEW: Interim Syrian opposition alliance leader Ghassan Hitto meets with rebels in Aleppo
  • NEW: Israeli president says Syrian leader turned out to be a phony
  • Israel says its troops came under fire Sunday from Syrian side

(CNN) -- Syrian opposition leader Moaz al-Khatib tried to resign Sunday, but was told he couldn't.

Al-Khatib will remain as head of the Syrian National Coalition until the group's next general meeting, Sanir Ahmed, Syrian National Coalition spokesman, told CNN. The executive committee rejected the resignation.

He "has taken the realm of the national coalition at a critical stage and he was able to garner great popularity and establish unity among ranks of the opposition. So he is to remain in his position for now," Ahmed said.

No date for the meeting has been set.

U.S. intel: No chemical weapons in strike
Syrian president steps out in public
Music from munitions
Germans adopt Syrian revolutionaries

Earlier, al-Khatib announced his resignation in a written statement, and accused world powers of using the Syrian crisis to advance their own interests.

"I promised the Syrian people and God to resign if matters reach some red lines," he wrote.

He wanted to step down, he said, "so I could work with more freedom unavailable to me within the official position of the organization."

Last week, a Syrian opposition alliance elected Ghassan Hitto -- who had studied and lived in the United States -- to lead the opposition's interim government.

Hitto went to Syria on Sunday, according to a Facebook post from the Syrian National Coalition, crossing the border with Turkey and meeting with rebel leaders in Aleppo.

In a statement about the resignation, Mohammed Ali, a spokesman for al-Khatib, said, "For two years now we've been slaughtered. We keep hearing that we will get arms, then that we won't get arms. Everyone is trading in the Syrian crisis for their own interest and agenda. The international community is doing nothing."

"Everything that has happened to the Syrian people -- including the destruction of their infrastructure, arrest of tens of thousands of its sons, and the forced displacement of hundreds of thousands, and other tragedies -- have not been enough to cause an international decision to be taken to allow the people to defend themselves," the statement said.

The news comes two days before members of the Arab League are scheduled to meet in Doha, Qatar. Qatar's Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani said Sunday he is looking forward to the participation of the interim government at the meeting.

Al-Khatib apparently has wanted to leave his position for some time. He favored having an executive committee lead the group rather than one interim leader.

Before news of the group's refusal to let al-Khatib step down now, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he likes al-Khatib personally and was sad to see him go.

"The notion he might resign has been expressed on many an occasion and is not a surprise," Kerry said.

Change within the opposition leadership is inevitable, and the United States "views this as a continuum," he said.

"The opposition is more than one person," Kerry said.

Who is Syria's opposition leader?
Interview with Syrian Opposition Pres.
Israelis watching the war next door
The Golan's war next door

Israeli troops under fire

The Israeli military, meanwhile, said its troops came under fire Sunday in the Golan Heights from the Syrian side -- and soldiers returned fire.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon blamed the Syrian military for the incident.

"We view very harshly the fire opened last night and this morning, from the direction of Syria on an IDF (Israel Defense Forces) force in Israeli territory," Yaalon said. "We will not allow the Syrian army or any other factor to violate Israeli's sovereignty by firing into our territory."

IDF said no casualties or damage had been reported on the Israeli side of the border, but it was continuing to monitor the situation in the border area.

Syria's opposition network, the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, said rebels were clashing with the Syrian army near the Golan Heights border at the time.

Fighting in the area has intensified in recent days as rebels backed by Nusra Front fighters gain territory.

The radical Islamist al-Nusra Front has emerged as one of the most effective groups in the Syrian resistance, drawing on foreign fighters with combat experience in Iraq and elsewhere.

In December, the U.S. State Department moved to blacklist the rebel group as a foreign terror organization linked to al Qaeda in Iraq.

President Shimon Peres said Israel had high hopes when Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who trained in London to become a doctor, was elected president. Al-Assad seemed to be "a modern young doctor," Peres said..

"It turned out to be a cover," Peres said. "He tried to build a nuclear bomb and he built a chemical arsenal. Fortunately, the nuclear installation is destroyed. Unluckily the chemical arsenal remained."

He added, "What's happening in Syria is a tragedy for Syria."

CNN's Salma Abdelaziz, Lauren Russell, Steve Almasy, and Josh Levs contributed to this report.

Part of complete coverage on
Syrian crisis
June 26, 2014 -- Updated 1243 GMT (2043 HKT)
Jihadists have kidnapped over 140 Kurdish boys to "brainwash" them. But a few boys made a daring escape.
June 26, 2014 -- Updated 1248 GMT (2048 HKT)
Reports that Syrian warplanes carried out a cross-border attack on Iraqi towns is further evidence of the blurring of the two countries' borders.
June 24, 2014 -- Updated 2133 GMT (0533 HKT)
CNN's Atika Shubert speaks to a father whose teenage son joined the Jihad movement in Syria.
June 23, 2014 -- Updated 1141 GMT (1941 HKT)
At the start of Syria's civil unrest, Omar would rally against the government alongside his schoolmates, later taking to the streets in his hometown of Salqin.
June 23, 2014 -- Updated 2117 GMT (0517 HKT)
Atika Shubert looks at the rise of European jihadists traveling to Syria and whether they soon could join ISIS in Iraq.
June 23, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
The final stockpile of Syria's chemical weapons has been shipped out of the country, according to the OPCW, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
June 25, 2014 -- Updated 2025 GMT (0425 HKT)
The US isn't doing airstrikes in Iraq. Is there a vacuum for Syria and Iran to step in? CNN's Fareed Zakaria weighs in.
June 10, 2014 -- Updated 0804 GMT (1604 HKT)
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh reports on Syrian rebels using underground explosions against the better-equipped regime.
June 9, 2014 -- Updated 1151 GMT (1951 HKT)
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh returns to the besieged rebel areas of Aleppo, a pale skeleton of a city that has had the life bombed out of it.
June 2, 2014 -- Updated 1151 GMT (1951 HKT)
Syria may be embroiled in a brutal three-year civil war, but that's not stopping the government from holding presidential elections.
June 3, 2014 -- Updated 1123 GMT (1923 HKT)
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh meets an ISIS defector in hiding and gets a rare look into the group's recruitment process.
June 5, 2014 -- Updated 1610 GMT (0010 HKT)
Over a thousand Syrian refugees have turned an abandoned shopping mall in Lebanon into makeshift living quarters.
May 28, 2014 -- Updated 2119 GMT (0519 HKT)
What caught our experts' ears was as much about what he didn't address as much as what he did.
May 20, 2014 -- Updated 1019 GMT (1819 HKT)
The three-year war in Syria has claimed 162,402 lives, an opposition group said Monday, as the raging conflict shows no signs of abating.
May 31, 2014 -- Updated 0141 GMT (0941 HKT)
Official: The U.S. believes a jihadi featured in a suicide bombing video in Syria is Moner Mohammad Abu-Salha who grew up in Florida.
May 20, 2014 -- Updated 1437 GMT (2237 HKT)
For the first time, Britain has convicted someone of a terrorism offense related to the Syrian civil war.