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Qatar and France call for protection of Syrian civilians

  • This photo by the Syrian official news agency SANA shows Syrian firefighters extinguishing a fire in a damaged school after a bomb attack in Damascus. (AP Photo/SANA)

UNITED NATIONS / DAMASCUS: Qatar and France made robust calls Tuesday for outside protection for Syrian civilians, as Egypt ruled out foreign intervention in the uprising against President Bashar Assad. Arab countries should intervene given the U.N. Security Council’s failure to stop the civil war in the country, Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani said during his address to the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

“The Security Council failed to reach an effective position. In view of this, I think that it is better for the Arab countries themselves to intervene out of their national, humanitarian, political and military duties and do what is necessary to stop the bloodshed in Syria,” Sheikh Hamad said, speaking through an interpreter.

The emir suggested bypassing the U.N. Security Council would enable a peaceful transition of power.

“We had a similar precedent when Arab forces intervened in Lebanon in the mid-’70s ... to stop internal fighting there, in a step that proved to be effective and useful,” he added.

Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey strongly support the Syrian rebels, while Iran backs Syrian President Bashar Assad. Western powers have opposed direct intervention and the U.N. Security Council will not endorse action against the wishes of Russia and China.

Prior to the emir’s address, Qatar’s prime minister urged world powers to prepare a “Plan B” for Syria within weeks and establish a no-fly zone to provide a safe haven inside the country if international mediator Lakhdar Brahimi fails to make progress.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani said he believed that Arab and European countries would be ready to take part in the move, despite their public reluctance to commit the forces needed.

Speaking hours before U.S. President Barack Obama addressed the General Assembly, Sheikh Hamad bin Jasem voiced his hope that Washington would focus more on Syria after the November presidential election.

“I believe that within weeks we should have a Plan B,” he told CNN in an interview.

“You need to make safe-haven areas first of all for the people. That will require a no-fly zone.

“If the Syrians want to break that, that’s another subject. That also needs somebody to have the teeth to tell them: ‘Don’t do that, because that will not be allowed.’”

“A lot of Arab countries will participate and ... also European countries will participate,” he said.

“I hope that after the election the American government looks at this matter in a different way.”

For his part, French President Francois Hollande called for U.N. protection for “liberated zones” under opposition control in Syria.

The socialist president addressed security threats around the world, saying that Iran’s rejection of U.N. demands on its nuclear drive was unacceptable, and calling for urgent action on the Islamist takeover in northern Mali. But he called Syria the main international emergency.

He said the U.N. must give Syrians the support and assistance they have requested, “in particular that liberated zones be protected and that humanitarian aid be assured for refugees.”

But Egyptian President Mohammad Mursi, who is scheduled to address the General Assembly Wednesday, voiced opposition to any foreign military intervention while maintaining that Assad must go.

“I am against foreign intervention by force in what happens in Syria,” Mursi told PBS television through an interpreter. “I think that it is a big mistake if it happens. Egypt does not agree to this.

“President Assad has no choice but to leave,” Mursi added.

“The regime should have realized that the military solution would not stop the revolution. Tens of thousands of people have been killed and more could follow, so the main thing is to stop the bloodshed.”

By bringing together Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey in the diplomatic effort on the Syrian crisis, Mursi continued, he was seeking to involve the stakeholders. “This is the reason why I chose these countries,” Mursi said.

“You cannot solve the problem without those countries which intervene in the problem. The stakeholders are the ones who sit down together to solve the problem.” In Syria, a bomb attack targeted a school in Damascus and wounded seven people, state-run media reported.

The rebel group Ansar al-Islam took responsibility for the blasts, saying the school was used for meetings between army officers and pro-government shabbiha militia, claiming that dozens of military personnel were killed or wounded.

Also, a Syrian rebel commander, Colonel Qassem Saadeddine, escaped an assassination attempt by pro-regime forces unscathed, a spokesman for the Free Syrian Army told AFP.

The opposition Syrian Revolution General Commission said a total of 102 people were killed in violence around the country.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 26, 2012, on page 1.
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