US backs Syria opposition despite chief's resignation

The resignation of the "courageous" chief of Syria's opposition is regrettable but will not affect the US government's support for the rebels, officials said Monday.


Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib's abrupt decision to step down from the National Coalition has underscored divisions among the opposition, but US officials said Washington would not withdraw its backing for the group.


"We're sorry to see him go," White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest told a press conference.


But he said that "Khatib's announcement does not change the US policy of support for the Syrian opposition and the Syrian opposition coalition."


The United States backed "the coalition's vision for a tolerant, inclusive Syria that respects the rights of all Syrians.


"And the opposition to [President Bashar al-Assad'] brutal rule is bigger than one person, and that movement will continue," he said.


The White House spokesman praised Khatib as "a courageous and pragmatic leader who has a strong sense of Syrians' hopes and fears.


"The opposition has been well-served by his leadership, and the Syrian people will continue to benefit from his service in whatever capacity he chooses to provide it."


Khatib's surprise resignation, announced on Sunday, has highlighted concerns in the West that hardline elements are gaining influence among the fractured opposition fighting to oust Assad.


The National Coalition, set up in Doha in November, is a dissident group recognized by dozens of states and organizations as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.


Khatib's move came just days after the first election in Istanbul of a rebel prime minister, Ghassan Hitto, and just over two years after the outbreak of a popular revolt against Assad inspired by the so-called Arab Spring.


An opposition source in Doha, where the Arab League is to hold a summit on Tuesday, told AFP that Khatib accused "certain countries, notably Qatar, of wanting to control the opposition" and of having imposed Hitto.

The opposition to [President Bashar al-Assad'] brutal rule is bigger than one person, and that movement will continue.