Fresh round of international crisis talks include Iranian delegation for the first time.
Qatar’s Foreign Minister Khalid al-Attiyah has ruled out boots on the ground in Syria, adding that financial aid is more needed in the war-torn country.
Despite having recently claimed that Qatar would consider “military intervention” to protect Syrians caught in a war between the Syrian army and opposition fighters, Attiyah ruled out the possibility of Qatari ground forces or air strikes being deployed, in an interview with Al Jazeera to be aired on Friday.
“[It] is out of the question to have our soldiers’ [feet] on the ground,” he said.
“They can liberate their country themselves. What they want is financial support, they want people to listen to them.”
Asked by UpFront host Mehdi Hasan about Qatar’s support for the controversial rebel group Ahrar al-Sham, which has been accused by human rights groups of possible war crimes, Attiyah said: “I don’t think Ahrar al-Sham committed any of these crimes.”
He also “guaranteed” that the group has no links to al-Qaeda, despite the late Ahrar al-Sham commander Abu Khalid al-Suri once proclaiming his allegiance to al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.
A week earlier, in an interview with CNN, Attiyah suggested Qatar could intervene militarily following Russia’s intervention in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but said it still preferred a political solution to the crisis.
Those comments drew a swift reply from Assad’s government with a senior official warning that Damascus would respond harshly to “direct aggression”.
Asked by CNN if Qatar supported the Saudi position of possible military action in response to Russia’s intervention, Attiyah had said: “Anything that protects the Syrian people and Syria from partition, we will not spare any effort to carry it out with our Saudi and Turkish brothers, no matter what this is.”
Syria’s warring rivals
Attiyah’s latest comments come as major backers of Syria’s warring rivals seek to narrow divisions over the future of the country and its embattled president, by holding international talks in Vienna.
The US, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Iran will meet in Vienna on Friday, with the aim of achieving a political settlement to help end the Syrian war.
The group met for the first time one week earlier, without an Iranian delegation.
Representatives from Qatar, Britain, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Lebanon, the European Union, and possibly other Arab states, are also expected to attend Friday’s meeting.
Referring to a recent call by the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, for dialogue between Gulf countries and Iran to solve political differences, he said: “We don’t see the dispute with Iran in the region as a Sunni-Shia thing.
“What we are seeing and what we are fearing is an Arab-Persian conflict which we want to avoid.”
Arab-Iranian tensions have been at play in the conflicts in Syria and Yemen.
Attiyah also urged Iran to “calm down the language” to help facilitate dialogue between the two sides.
On the Israel-Palestine conflict, he warned Israel that security measures at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound are provocative and are effectively “offending 1.5 billion Muslims” globally.
The full interview with Khalid al-Attiyah will be aired on Al Jazeera on Friday at 19:30 GMT, and will be available online at the same time.