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NATO says has no intention of intervening in Syria

To applause from Arab heads of state, a foe of Bashar al-Assad took Syria's vacant seat at an Arab summit on Tuesday, deepening the Syrian president's diplomatic isolation and diverting attention from opposition rifts. Speaking at an annual gathering of Arab heads of state in the Gulf state of Qatar, Moaz Alkhatib said he had asked U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry for U.S. forces to help defend rebel-controlled northern parts of Syria with Patriot surface-to-air missiles. NATO swiftly rebuffed the idea.

"It was a historic meeting. You could feel the grandiose nature of the meeting," said opposition spokesman Yaser Tabbara.

"It's a first step towards acquiring full legal legitimacy."

Alkhatib said the United States should play a bigger role in helping end the two-year-old conflict in Syria, blaming Assad's government for what he called its refusal to solve the crisis.

"We are still waiting for a decision from NATO to protect people's lives, not to fight but to protect lives," he said.

Responding to Alkhatib's remarks, an official of the Western military alliance at its headquarters in Brussels said: "NATO has no intention to intervene militarily in Syria.

"NATO calls for an end to violence in Syria, which represents a serious threat to stability and security in the region. We fully support the efforts of the international community to find a peaceful solution," the official said.

Michael Stephens, a researcher based in Qatar for Britain's Royal United Services Institute, said acceding to Alkhatib's request would effectively put NATO at war with Damascus.

NATO's current deployment of three Patriot missile batteries, in eastern Turkey, is intended to be purely defensive, shielding Turkey from possible attack from Syria. The Patriots are designed to shoot down hostile missiles in mid-air.

Alkhatib took Syria's chair at the summit for the first time despite announcing on Sunday that he would step down as leader of the Syrian National Coalition.

The Arab League suspended Syria in November 2011 in protest at its use of violence against civilians to quell dissent.

Syrian rebels again fired mortar rounds into central Damascus on Tuesday. State television said several people had been wounded by "terrorist" mortar bombs that landed in the Syrian Arab News Agency SANA compound in the Baramkeh district.

The attack followed a similar flurry of rebel mortar bombs that struck near the Opera House on Ummayad Square in the heart of Damascus, killing two people on Monday.

Syrian state TV did not cover the Arab League meeting in Qatar, airing a programme on makeup for women instead.

Jane Kinninmont, of Britain's Chatham House think tank, said Qatar and the other Gulf states had been frustrated that the United States in particular and also European powers had not done more to help the Syrian opposition.

"The Gulf countries contrast this to the Iraq war which many of them were quite dubious about, and they see a U.S. that's far less interventionist today, even though there's a much greater case for and immediate humanitarian need than there was in the case of Iraq."

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