|Arab League monitors have met anti-government protesters but not been allowed into ‘military zones’ [YouTube]|
Syria has rejected any plans to send Arab troops into the country, saying it will “confront” and “stand firm” against military intervention after the ruler of Qatar said in a television interview that Arab countries should step in with force.
The state-run SANA news agency quoted a “credible source” at the foreign ministry as saying on Tuesday that the country is “shocked” by the Qatari emir’s comments, which “could worsen the conflict and kill the chances of Syria working closely with Arabs”.
The source warned that it will be “unfortunate to see Arab blood flow on Syrian soil”.
Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani was quoted by an American television programme on Sunday as suggesting that Arab troops should be sent to Syria to stop the deadly violence.
The interview, which was conducted late last year, was the first time an Arab leader had called for the deployment of troops inside the country.
The United Nations estimated in December that at least 5,000 people have been killed since protests against the government of President Bashar al-Assad broke out in March.
The organisation also believes at least 400 people have been killed since the Arab League first deployed observers – meant to oversee the implementation of a League-brokered peace plan – on December 26.
The initially peaceful uprising against Assad was met with deadly force and mass arrests and has in recent months turned into a militarised conflict between the government on one side and army defectors and armed civilians on the other.
Qatar, which once had close relations with Damascus, has been a harsh critic of crackdown and withdrew its ambassador during the summer.
Since revolts began to sweep the Arab world in December 2010, Qatar has aggressively supported opposition movements, most prominently in Libya, where it trained, armed and guided the fighters who overthrew the country’s longstanding ruler, Muammar Gaddafi.
Assad and his government say “terrorists” are behind the uprising and that armed gangs are acting out a foreign conspiracy to destabilise the country.
The Syrian foreign ministry source told SANA on Tuesday that “it will be unfortunate to see Arab blood flow on Syrian territory just for the purpose of serving known agendas, especially that the foreign conspiracy against Syria has become very clear”.
The statement also called on Arab countries to “help prevent the infiltration of terrorists and the smuggling of weapons into Syria”.
The Arab League observer mission is expected to announce this week that Syria has failed to implement a peace plan brokered by the regional bloc.
Tug-of-war at UN
International diplomats at the UN Security Council, meanwhile, are debating a new resolution that will call for an end to the violence and is set to come to a vote in two weeks.
The US and European nations are at odds with Russia, which proposed the draft language and opposes intervention in Syria.
“Western countries say the resolution isn’t tough enough, [the] Russians say it’s not the Security Council’s place to take sides in civil dispute,” Al Jazeera’s Kristin Saloomey reported from the United Nations.
The Russians do not want to see a Libya-style military intervention and “are not alone” in that desire, our correspondent said.
The draft resolution does not mention sanctioning Syria, which the US and European Union have done independently, she said.
Mandate to expire
The Arab League mission’s mandate is due to expire on Thursday, and the bloc is set to meet on Sunday to discuss next steps, including possibly renewing the mission.
“The outcome of the contacts that have taken place over the past week between the Arab League and Syria have affirmed that Syria will not reject the renewal of the Arab monitoring mission for another month … if the Arab foreign ministers call for this at the coming meeting,” an Arab source told the Reuters news agency.
Syria will allow the number of monitors, currently fewer than 200, to increase, but will not agree to give them official fact-finding duties or let them visit off-limits “military zones”.
Activists reported that at least 20 people died in Syria on Tuesday, mostly in the flashpoint city of Homs.
SANA reported that an “armed terrorist group” fired rocket-propelled grenades at an army checkpoint 9km southwest of Damascus on Monday, killing an officer and five soldiers.