REPORTING FROM BEIRUT -- Arab troops should be dispatched to Syria to halt bloodshed that has shown no sign of abating despite the presence of Arab League observers in the country, the emir of Qatar has suggested, the first time an Arab head of state has called for military intervention in the country.
“For such a situation to stop the killing ... some troops should go to stop the killing,” Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani said in an interview with the CBS program “60 Minutes” airing Sunday, according to excerpts published on the CBS News website.
The statement is likely to infuriate the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad. The small Persian Gulf emirate, which once had good relations with Syria, has become a leading voice for change in Syria after assuming a similar role in Libya.
Last summer, Qatar withdrew its ambassador from Damascus, the Syrian capital. Al Jazeera, the pan-Arab news network created by the emir, helped fan revolts across the Middle East and North Africa.
Al Jazeera “caused us a lot of problems with the top people in the Arab countries,” the emir told CBS. But he stopped short of suggesting that the network was directly responsible for the ousting of longtime autocrats such as Egypt's Hosni Mubarak and slain Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi, according to the excerpts.
The emir’s comments came amid mounting international concern over the escalating bloodshed in Syria, where the league has deployed monitors to verify that the government is fulfilling a promise to halt a months-long crackdown against dissent.
More than 5,000 people have been killed since the start of major anti-government protests in March, according to estimates by the United Nations. A senior U.N. official said last week that the killings had escalated to about 40 a day since the observers arrived last month, although Saturday’s toll appeared to be considerably lower.
The Local Coordination Committees, a Syrian activist coalition, said at least five people were injured Saturday in the town of Saraqeb in the northern province of Idlib when the army opened fire on thousands of demonstrators in the presence of a team of observers. The report could not be independently verified.
Syrian authorities say they're being targeted by foreign conspiracies and lay blame for the violence on armed groups they say are trying to sow sectarian strife.
Elements of the uprising have become more violent in recent months, with army defectors claiming responsibility for deadly attacks against the security forces. A brigadier general who was in charge of security in northern Syria was reported Saturday to have joined other defectors in Turkey. If true, he would be the highest-ranking officer so far to leave Assad’s security forces.
In neighboring Lebanon, the head of the militant Shiite group Hezbollah, a staunch ally of Syria, called Saturday for regional rivals to overcome their differences to help end the crisis.
“All efforts should come together, the efforts of Arab countries, the Arab League and influential Islamic countries in the region, namely the Islamic Republic of Iran and Turkey, to help end the Syrian crisis,” Sheik Hassan Nasrallah told a large crowd via video link, shown on Al Manar, the Hezbollah TV news station.
Photo: Members of the Free Syrian Army rebel group and their supporters gather in the city of Homs on Han. 13. Credit: AFP/Getty Images