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Russia, Iran criticise Arab League for handing seat to opposition

Russia criticised the Arab League on Wednesday for giving a seat formerly held by Syria's government to a representative of the opposition to President Bashar al-Assad at a summit in Doha. Opposition leader Moaz Alkhatib took Syria's vacant seat on Tuesday at the Arab summit, which also lent its support to giving military aid to the rebels fighting to oust Assad. "In Doha, another anti-Syria step was taken," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

"Developments at the Arab League summit in Doha and decisions taken there, regardless of objections by some member states, cause bewilderment to say the least."

Russia is Assad's most powerful ally and a long-time arms supplier to his government. It has blocked three U.N. Security Council resolutions that would mount pressure on Assad to end the violence that killed more than 70,000 people in two years.

"In fact this is about openly encouraging those powers that unfortunately continue to bet on a military solution in Syria," the ministry said.

Decisions taken in Doha contravened international law and were therefore invalid, it added.

Iran also lambasted the Arab League for allowing an opposition leader to fill Syria's vacant seat at the organisation's annual summit and described it as "dangerous behaviour", Iranian media reported.

"Assigning Syria's seat to the Arab League to those who don't have the backing of the people establishes a pattern of dangerous behaviour for the Arab world that can set a new precedent for other members of the Arab League in the future," said deputy foreign minister, Hossein Amir Abdullahian, Iran's student news agency (ISNA) reported.

"These actions will bring an end to the organisation's role in the region," he said.

At the summit, Moaz Alkhatib asked U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry for American forces to help defend rebel-controlled northern parts of Syria with Patriot surface-to-air missiles based in Turkey. NATO swiftly rebuffed the idea.

The summit also endorsed the provision of military aid to Syrian rebels. A communiqué affirmed member states had a right to offer assistance "including military, to support the steadfastness of the Syrian people and the Free Army".

Iran has proposed a six-point plan for Syria and emphasised the importance of elections and reforms, but does not accept the removal of Assad, saying a solution to the crisis cannot be imposed from outside the country.

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