The oil-rich Gulf state of Qatar backed arming Syrian rebels on Monday, echoing fresh calls from opposition figures for a military response to the relentless regime bombardment of anti-government strongholds.
As Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, Qatar’s prime minister, said opponents of President Bashar al-Assad should be given weapons to defend themselves, several heavyweight domestic foes of the Syrian leader set up a group to support what one called a “military revolution”.
The push for increased, and more organised, aid for the rebel Free Syrian Army reflects deep frustration among some regime opponents at the international reluctance to intervene in Syria, as assaults by the regime’s security forces on the third city of Homs and other areas move into their fourth weeks.
“How can you stop the Syrian regime from systematically wiping out entire neighbourhoods and entire cities?” said Yaser Tabbara, an adviser to the Syrian National Council’s secretary-general. “We need to move on this as an absolute priority as soon as possible.”
The European Union underscored western opposition to military intervention as it announced fresh sanctions on Monday, including an asset freeze on the Syrian central bank and curbs on its participation in precious metal markets.
“Military intervention requires many, many things – not least the certainty of the United Nations, and as you know, we’re nowhere near that,” said Lady Ashton, Europe’s top foreign policy official.
Western countries and others who want Mr Assad to go shy away from intervening both because of the lack of a UN mandate and because of concerns that the impact of a full-scale civil war in a country at the political and geographic heart of the Middle East will rip through the entire region.
However, Qatar’s Sheikh Hamad said that after Russia and China vetoed UN Security Council action against Mr Assad this month states opposed to his regime needed to do what “whatever is necessary” to helps the Syrian opposition, including “giving them weapons to defend themselves”.
He reinforced calls first made by Qatar late last year for Arab countries to prepare to intervene in Syria, where the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least seven people were killed on Monday to bring the death toll during the near year-long uprising to 8,036, nearly 5,900 of them civilians.
Leading members of the Syrian National Council announced the setting up of a new organisation known as the Syrian Patriotic Group to “back the national effort to bring down the regime with all available resistance means including supporting the Free Syrian Army”.
They dismissed the SNC’s existing way of working with rebels on the ground as “useless”, while Kamal al-Labwani, a member of the new group, said its creation was a recognition that the uprising in Syria was now a “military revolution”.
The remarks by the Syrian Patriotic Group and Qatar reinforce the declaration last week by Saud al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, that arming the rebels was an “excellent idea”. The statement came after a sometimes acrimonious meeting of so-called “Friends of Syria”, made up of western, Gulf and other states opposed to the Assad regime, broke up on Friday with no agreement on foreign military intervention.
Some regime opponents are concerned that sending a flood of weapons to the rebels could not only intensify the conflict but also worsen human rights abuses of which they are already accused, albeit on a far lesser scale than the Assad regime. A UN-commissioned report on Syria published last week focused mainly on state-directed violations, but also drew attention to what it said were “gross human rights abuses” by groups identifying themselves as part of the ‘Free Syrian Army’ – a loose term used by armed opponents of Mr Assad.
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