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Syrian rebels ask US to shoot down Assad's warplanes with Patriot missiles

Mohamed Al-husain / Shaam News Network / Reuters

A look back at the conflict that has overtaken the country.

A Syrian opposition leader said Tuesday that he had asked the United States to defend rebel-held areas with Patriot missiles. 

NATO already has Patriot surface-to-air missile batteries in NATO-member Turkey to help defend the country from potential airstrikes by President Bashar Assad's regime.


Syrian opposition leader Mouaz al-Khatib — who appeared Tuesday as the representative of Syria at an Arab League summit meeting following the Assad regime's suspension — said that he had asked Secretary of State John Kerry "to extend the umbrella of the Patriot missiles to cover the Syrian north and he promised to study the subject," Reuters reported.

The insurgents have few weapons to counter Assad's helicopter gunships and warplanes. Al-Khatib added that 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. 

Al-Khatib, who is considered a moderate preacher, appeared at the summit despite his resignation as the head of the Syrian National Coalition on Sunday, when he slammed the lack of action by the international community. An estimated 70,000 Syrians have been killed in the two-year conflict.

The United Nations is  withdrawing half of its staff from Syria after shelling near their living quarters.   Channel 4's Alex Thomson reports from Damascus.

"We have been slaughtered under the watchful eyes of the world for two years, in an unprecedented manner by a vicious regime," he said Sunday.

"Everything that happened to the Syrian people — from destruction of infrastructure, arrest of tens of thousands of their children, displacement of tens of thousands, and other tragedies — is not enough for the world to make an international decision to allow people to defend themselves," he added.

However, NATO said on Tuesday that it was not going to get involved in the conflict. "NATO has no intention to intervene militarily in Syria," a NATO official told Reuters.

Anti-Assad forces suffered a further blow Sunday night when the founder of the insurgent Free Syrian Army had his leg severed by an explosion in an apparent assassination attempt, opposition sources told Reuters. Colonel Riad al-Asaad's wounds were not life-threatening and he was moved from Syria to a hospital in Turkey, a Turkish official said.

The West and Arab nations’ perceived inaction in the face of the slaughter and destruction infuriates many Syrian opposition members, who say they cannot topple Assad without military hardware like anti-tank mines and anti-aircraft missiles.

The founder of the Free Syrian Army lost a leg in an explosion in Syria, according to Reuters. NBCNews.com's Dara Brown reports.

That hesitancy is especially galling for many in the opposition given that other countries are already involved in the war to an extent: Russia, Iran and Lebanese militant group Hezbollah support the regime more-or-less openly, while the United States, Europe and much of the Sunni Arab world are arrayed behind the rebels.

There are fears in the West that heavy weapons given to the rebels could fall into the hands of extremist groups fighting alongside them, such as Jabhat al-Nusra.

Despite of attempts to contain the crisis, the conflict is bleeding across its borders.

The civil war has already displaced an estimated 3 million Syrians, and sent more than a million fleeing into neighboring countries.

The conflict has also inflamed sectarian tensions in neighboring Lebanon, which suffered its own vicious civil war. Fears are growing that the violence will ignite simmering Sunni-Shiite tensions in Iraq.

On Monday, Jordan closed its main border crossing with Syria after two days of fighting there between Syrian troops and rebel fighters.

Rebels have also overrun several towns near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, fueling tensions in the sensitive military zone. 

Reuters contributed to this report.

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