Qatar emir says he favors Arab force in Syria
Qatar favours sending Arab forces into Syria to stop the deadly 10-month crackdown on dissent as the Arab League said Saturday it will reassess its heavily criticised observer mission there.
The emir of Qatar, in an interview with US network CBS to air Sunday, says he favours dispatching Arab troops to Syria to “stop the killing” that the United Nations says has claimed more than 5,000 lives since March.
Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani’s interview with “60 Minutes” is the first public call by an Arab leader for an Arab military presence in Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad’s regime is pressing ahead with its crackdown.
“For such a situation to stop the killing … some troops should go to stop the killing,” Sheikh Hamad replied, when asked whether he supports Arab intervention.
The comments by the emir, whose wealthy nation once enjoyed cordial ties with Damascus, come with the Arab League set to review the work of its Syria monitoring mission later this month.
“There is an overall reassessment of the work of the observer mission which we will discuss at the next ministerial meeting to be held in Cairo on Saturday, January 21,” League chief Nabil al-Arabi told AFP in Oman.
“There has been partial progress until now but there is daily bloodshed in Syria that the League aims to end,” he added.
“The Arab League general secretariat is now examining whether it would be beneficial for the mission to pursue its work in light of the continuing violence,” Arabi was quoted as saying by Egypt’s official MENA news agency.
The interview with Sheikh Hamad, excerpts of which were sent to AFP by CBS, comes amid increasing concern that the League’s mission to monitor conditions on the ground in Syria was failing.
The influential emir has become one of Assad’s most vocal critics.
In August, he described the Syrian regime’s heavy-handed use of force against protesters as “fruitless,” and withdrew Qatar’s ambassador to Damascus.
Meanwhile, a US official said on Friday that Washington has reason to believe Iran is supplying security-related equipment “including munitions” to Syria in its crackdown.
The accusation comes after the head of the elite Revolutionary Guards’ Quds force, Qasem Soleimani, visited Damascus this month.
On the political front, Britain has sharply criticised Russia for refusing to support UN Security Council moves against Assad.
In October, Russia and China vetoed a Western draft resolution that would have condemned Assad’s regime. Moscow later circulated an alternative that would have blamed both sides.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said in Saudi Arabia Friday that vetoing a Security Council resolution against Damascus amounted to standing by and watching the “appalling bloodshed.”
Cameron told Al-Arabiya television that Britain stands ready to take a fresh Syria resolution to the Security Council.
A Russian ship suspected of carrying munitions for Damascus arrived in the Syrian port of Tartus on “January 11 or 12,” shipping expert Mikhail Voitenko told AFP on Saturday.
Efforts to isolate Assad’s government were boosted by rebel plans to form a high military council, headed by a top defector, to oversee military operations against the regime.
General Mustafa Ahmad al-Sheikh, the most senior commander to defect from the Syrian army, will announce the council’s formation in Turkey, where he sought refuge 12 days ago, his media adviser said.
Sheikh, 54, was in charge of security in northern Syria before defecting. In a statement, he said he had deserted because he was sickened by the regime’s ruthlessness and the killings.
“This council, headed by Sheikh, will oversee military operations in conjunction with the Free Syrian Army (FSA),” Fahad Almasri told AFP.
“It will also help organise defections within the army and will be in contact with officers in the regular army to encourage large-scale rather than individual defections.”
Formed from deserters from the regular army, the FSA says it has some 40,000 fighters.
Meanwhile, violence in the flashpoint city of Homs claimed two lives Saturday — a 13-year-old child shot dead at a checkpoint and a 27-year-old man killed by snipers — the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Separately, the official SANA news agency said three people were injured when a train carrying fuel in the northwest province of Idlib was hit by a booby trap bomb “laid by terrorists.”
And the Observatory said there was fighting between deserters and loyalist troops in Hula, Homs province, after the defectors destroyed a barricade and a number of security forces were killed or wounded.