Highlights from the interview with Syrian rebel leader Moaz al-Khatib

CBS News correspondent Clarissa Ward interviewed Moaz al-Khatib, the man chosen to lead a newly formed coalition of Syria's opposition groups, in Brussels, Belgium. Below are highlights from the exclusive interview. Unless otherwise noted, Khatib's answers are translated from Arabic.

Syrian rebel leader commends U.S. endorsement

Clarissa Ward: How and what prompted you to leave Syria?

Moaz al-Khatib: I was arrested several times. But the last time, there was a huge explosion in the area where I used to be. And I received information that they intended to arrest me yet again. So I just left ... that was about a month after the I went out of prison .. and I went to Cairo.

Ward: When you left Syria ... did you have any political ambitions?

Khatib: No never. It never crossed my mind before. I always prefered to be involved in community and charity work. But the current circumstances are what imposed upon me to get me into politics ... to defend the rights of the Syrian people.

Ward: So, let's talk about this new coalition. Expectations are very high about what you can deliver and I just wonder, how is this coalition different from the Syrian National Council?

Khatib: The National Coalition for the Syrian Revolutionary and opposition Forces takes in the Syrian National Council and many other opposition groups. The Syrian people has been looking forward to the unification of the opposition forces. The creation of this coalition has sparked a lot of optimism. This optimism has also been reflected on the local and international levels; It raised the hope that the crisis of the Syrian people and its sufferance at the hands of this authoritarian repressive regime may happen sooner.

Ward: One of the main concerns about the Syrian National Council was that it was not representative of all of the different sects within Syria. Is your coalition representative of all the different minorities inside Syria?

Khatib: The National Coalition for the Syrian Revolutionary and opposition Forces is not a parliament. It is a revolutionary assembly that aims to topple the regime. Its internal system allows it to be open to subscriptions by the various opposition forces according to certain procedures administered by an acceptance/membership committee. The coalition takes in a wide number of Syrian opposition groups; revolutionary, civilian and military ones. As I said, the coalition internal system is open, and there are currently dozens of demands submitted by various groups to enter into the coalition. They are being reviewed by the committee .. and we welcome everybody onboard.

Ward: I am just wondering, what do you say to those communities who perhaps would be willing to turn against the regime but who are fearful of what would happen to them afterwards.

Khatib: The Syrian social fabric is tightly woven ... and this gives assurance to its various components. This is our main asset in reassuring the brothers from the other components. But, in truth, there are no 'components' .. there is only one (Syrian) people. In many of the areas that have already been liberated, the people who were not necessarily in favor of the revolution, were not harmed. People only hate the men who harm, arrest and kill them. It's not a sin for anybody to be born in this or that faith .. or to have different cultural backgrounds. The Syrian social fabric is our main guarantee.

The Free Syrian Army is another guarantee; Yesterday, they reached an advanced level towards its unification, and announced the formation of the Supreme Military Council. This council has pledged to take all necessary measures to guarantee the safeguard of human rights ... and also pledged to protect the entire Syrian people and defend its various communities.

Ward: You can make that guarantee from here. But can you enforce it on the ground inside Syria?

Khatib: Yes. There are areas that I would confidently say are safe areas. All individuals living in these areas are well and safe. It's the regime that tried using every possible manner to stir sectarian strife. Until now, it has mostly failed. The awareness of the Syrian people will thwart the other issues that haven't risen to the surface yet.

Ward: Does the coalition speak frequently with rebel commanders inside Syria?

Khatib: Frankly speaking, communication with the commanders inside Syria is not as we would have hoped for it to be, but our relationship is strong. We are in contact with them; Yesterday, I phoned the FSA Chief of Staff and congratulated him on this step that they've taken, and which was very important for the Syrian people. But we expect even more coordination and closer cooperation once the transitional government is in place.

  • Clarissa Ward

    Foreign Correspondent, CBS News

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