Arab League may debate Syria troops call; U.N. chief tells Assad to ‘stop killing’


The Arab League said a Qatari proposal to send Arab troops to Syria will be discussed this week as the U.N. chief told Bashar al-Assad to “stop killing” his people and the Syrian leader offered an amnesty for “crimes” committed during a 10-month-old revolt against him.

Jabr al-Shoufi, a member of the Syrian National Council, told Al Arabiya that the Syrian regime will prevent by force any Arab troops from entering the country.

Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi said on Sunday that a ministerial meeting this week could discuss a Qatari proposal to send Arab troops to unrest-hit Syria, where as many as 33 people were killed on Sunday according to Syrian activists.

“All ideas will be open for discussion,” he told reporters in Manama when asked if Saturday’s meeting will debate the proposal by Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani.

In an interview to be aired on U.S. television, Sheikh Hamad said he favors sending Arab troops to Syria to stop Damascus’ bloody crackdown on 10 months of democracy protests, according to AFP.

Asked if he was in favor of Arab nations intervening in Syria, Qatari Sheikh Hamad told the U.S. broadcaster CBS: “For such a situation to stop the killing ... some troops should go to stop the killing.”

The emir, whose country backed last year’s NATO campaign that helped Libyan rebels topple Muammar Qaddafi, is the first Arab leader to call publicly for Arab troops to be deployed in Syria, where the U.N. estimates more than 5,000 people have been killed in the crackdown since mid-March last year.

The Syrian Revolution General Commission reported that 21 people have been killed by security force gunfire across Syria today, according to Al Arabiya TV.

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, amid increasing concern about its failure to end the violence.

According to a U.N. official, 400 people have been killed since the beginning of the Arab League mission to the crisis-hit country on Dec. 26.

Former Arab League secretary general Amr Moussa also said on Sunday the League should consider sending troops to Syria.

However, Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki said in an interview published on Sunday he opposed foreign military intervention in Syria, saying it would spark an “explosion” across the entire Middle East.

“Such intervention would signify that the war will spread across the whole region, opening the way to all powers, following the example of Turkey, Israel, Iran and Hezbollah. That would mean the whole region exploding,” he said.

“Stop killing your people”

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Monday appealed to the Security Council to act with “seriousness” on Syria, where he said the situation has become “unacceptable.”

“The situation has reached an unacceptable point,” Ban told reporters on the sidelines of an energy summit in Abu Dhabi.

“I sincerely hope that the Security Council will handle this in a sense of seriousness and gravity and in a coherent manner.

“I’ve been urging and appealing to President (Bashar) al-Assad to stop killing... and to listen to his own people,” he said.

“Leaders should always be connected with the people. When a leader is disconnected from the reality and from the people, then this situation is inevitable,” he added of 10 months of deadly protests against Assad’s regime.

Ban said he hoped the U.N. would act coherently, acknowledging differences of opinion on how to address the situation in Syria where the world body estimates more than 5,000 people have been killed in the crackdown on dissent.

“It is important that the United Nations speaks and acts in a coherent manner,” he said.

“I know there are some differences of opinions among member states of the Security Council, but the number of casualties has reached to such an unacceptable stage, “Ban said.

“We cannot let this situation continue like this.”

In October, Russia and China vetoed a Western draft resolution that would have condemned Assad’s regime. Russia, which is sticking by its ally, later circulated an alternative that would have pointed the finger at both sides.

Ban also commended the Arab League for sending monitors to Syria despite criticism of the mission that has failed to end the violence.

“I highly appreciate and commend the efforts by the league of Arab states, by dispatching monitors and engaging in discussions with President Assad,” he said.

“I sincerely hope they will be able to carry on,” he added.

Meanwhile, the U.N. chief told Assad on Sunday to stop killing his people, according to Reuters.

“Today, I say again to President Assad of Syria: stop the violence, stop killing your people. The path of repression is a dead end,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a conference in Lebanon on democratic transitions in the Arab world.

“The winds of change will not cease to blow. The flame ignited in Tunisia will not be dimmed,” he added.

Ban’s comments came as Assad announced a general amnesty for crimes committed during the popular unrest that on Sunday entered its eleventh month.

“President Assad issued a decree stipulating a general amnesty for crimes committed during the events between March 15, 2011 and January 15, 2012,” the official SANA news agency reported.

Assad’s amnesty will run to the end of January, covering army deserters and people who possessed illegal arms or had violated laws on peaceful protest, the state news agency SANA said.

Syria’s Addounia television said Arab monitors discussed the amnesty with Damascus police on Sunday.

Opponents of Assad said the amnesty was meaningless because most detainees were held without charge in secret police or military facilities with no due process or legal documentation.

“The problem is not those who have reached trial or have been sentenced to terms in civic jails but those who are imprisoned and we don't know where they are or anything about them,” said Kamal Labwani, who was freed last month after six years as a political prisoner and is now in Jordan.

The Arab League’s Syria committee, whose Qatari chairman has said the observer mission has failed to staunch the bloodshed, will discuss a report by the monitors on Friday, Egypt’s MENA news agency said.

The Cairo-based League will not send any more monitors to Syria before the Arab foreign ministers meet next Sunday, MENA said.

Anti-Assad protests began in March inspired by a wave of popular anger against autocratic rulers sweeping the Arab world.

Assad has issued several amnesties since the start of protests, but opposition groups say thousands of people remain behind bars and many have been tortured or abused.

Freeing detainees

The Avaaz campaign group said on Dec. 22 at least 69,000 people had been detained since the start of the uprising, of whom 32,000 had been released.

Freeing detainees was one of the terms of an Arab League peace plan which also called for an end to bloodshed, the withdrawal of troops and tanks from the streets and a political dialogue.

The movement to end more than four decades of Assad family rule began with largely peaceful demonstrations, but after months of violence by the security forces, army deserters and insurgents started to fight back, prompting fears of civil war.

China and Russia have blocked any action against Syria by the U.N. Security Council. The United States, the European Union and the Arab League have announced economic sanctions, although it is not clear if the Arab measures have been implemented.

Turkey, whose foreign minister was in Beirut at the weekend, has also imposed sanctions on Syria after the violence prompted it to turn against a neighbor it had once courted assiduously.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he hoped more sanctions on Syria could be agreed in the next 10 days or so, referring to a Jan. 23 meeting of EU foreign ministers.

In an interview with Sky News television, Hague also questioned the sincerity of Assad’s amnesty offer and said he hoped the Arab League would refer Syria to the United Nations if the monitoring mission failed to halt the violence.

He dismissed the idea of a no-fly zone in Syria, saying there was no chance for now of Security Council approval for such action, which was not necessarily appropriate anyway.

“It’s not primarily by flying aircraft that the Assad regime is repressing its people,” Hague said.