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Syria accuses Qatar of arming rebels as EU prepares new sanctions against Damascus

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Syria’s state-owned media on Wednesday accused Qatar of arming and financing opponents of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Qatar’s call to send Arab troops to the country “falls within the framework of the negative role played by Qatar since the start of this crisis... through the financing of armed groups,” the Tishrin newspaper charged.

The Gulf state “can help Syria get out of its crisis... by stopping its financing of armed (groups) and the trafficking of weapons” to insurgents, wrote the daily.

Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Hamad Ben Khalifa al-Thani, said in an interview aired at the weekend that he backs sending Arab troops to Syria, where the regime has been trying to crush a democracy protest movement with brutal force for the past 10 months.

Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi said the idea could come up for discussion at the next meeting of the pan-Arab body at its Cairo headquarters on Saturday and Sunday.

The Arab bloc is expected to discuss the future of its widely criticized observer mission to Syria, where the United Nations says the regime’s crackdown on protests has cost more than 5,400 lives since March.

Damascus routinely blames the violence in Syria on “armed groups” and “terrorists” backed by foreign powers pursuing an agenda of regime-change in the country.

Tishrin also accused Qatar of blocking any solution to the crisis in order to “ramp up international pressure” on Damascus.

The daily also accused Qatar of “manipulating information” on Syria through its satellite television channel Al-Jazeera.

The accusations come one day after Damascus flatly rejected Qatar’s proposal to send troops to Syria.

“Syria rejects the statements of officials of Qatar on sending Arab troops to worsen the crisis... and pave the way for foreign intervention,” the foreign ministry said.

“The Syrian people refuse any foreign intervention in any name. They will oppose any attempt to undermine the sovereignty of Syria and the integrity of its territory,” the ministry added.

New EU sanctions

Meanwhile European Union foreign ministers are set to slap fresh sanctions on Syria next week, adding 22 individuals and eight companies to an existing blacklist, EU diplomats said Wednesday.

“As long as the repression continues we will step up our restrictive measures,” said an EU diplomatic source speaking on condition of anonymity.

The sanctions are expected to be announced by foreign ministers meeting on Monday in Brussels, another EU diplomat said. No details were immediately available on the identities of the new targets.

The EU has already agreed 10 rounds of sanctions against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, with some 120 people and companies targeted so far by an EU assets freeze and travel ban.

It is also enforcing an arms embargo and a ban on imports of Syrian crude oil.

In December, it expanded its sanctions list to include Syria’s finance and economy ministers, state-owned oil companies and two media organizations.

The EU move would come on the heels of a pledge by U.S. President Barack Obama to redouble efforts to force a change of regime in Syria as the UN Security Council struggles to agree on a resolution on Damascus’s crackdown on dissent.

Obama said concerns about the crackdown had been “uppermost” in talks with visiting Jordanian King Abdullah II on Tuesday.

“We continue to see unacceptable levels of violence inside that country,” Obama said.

The comments followed the Assad government’s rejection of a proposal to deploy Arab forces to halt unrest in Syria, where the U.N. estimates more than 5,400 people have been killed in the crackdown on democracy protests since March.