Qatar backs UN General Assembly push for Syria intervention

Qatar is urging countries opposed to Syria's regime to take their case to the UN General Assembly, where it would likely win support for a broader international intervention.

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MANAMA // After months of deadlock on Syria at the United Nations Security Council, Qatar is urging countries opposed to Syria's regime to take their case to the UN General Assembly, where it would likely win support for a broader international intervention.

Russia and China have stymied attempts by the US and its western and Arab allies to increase global pressure on Syria's president, Bashar Al Assad, vetoing three resolutions at the Security Council aimed at pressuring the government to stop the violence.

"I think we will be thinking seriously of doing it through the United Nations General Assembly, to take such a resolution, in order to protect the Syrian people from the blocking resolutions on the Security Council," Qatar's minister of state for foreign affairs, Khalid bin Mohammed Al Attiyah, told a regional security conference in Manama, Bahrain, on Saturday.

A resolution at the General Assembly would likely win backing from a majority of member states, providing moral - although not legal - authority to help to end the civil war, which activists say has killed at least 40,000 people since March last year.

Mr Al Attiyah also urged the international community to involve all elements of the armed opposition in Syria, including those deemed by western intelligence to have links to extremists groups such as Al Qaeda.

"I am very much against excluding anyone at this stage, or bracketing them as terrorists, or bracketing them as Al Qaeda," he said. "What we are doing is only creating a sleeping monster ... We should bring them all together, we should treat them all equally, and we should work on them to change their ideology."

His comments add to growing debate, particularly in the West, over assisting the Syrian armed opposition. That debate is particularly acute in the US, where concerns over Islamist extremist groups have so far confounded calls to provide more assistance.

But a growing number of members of the US Congress have called for a more aggressive stance - including lethal aid - despite the risks, arguing that an aggressive intelligence effort could target the assistance towards more moderate opposition elements.

"I believe that in Syria everything that those in our country and Congress have used to argue against involvement, those things that they said would happen, have happened because they didn't intervene," US senator John McCain told conference delegates on Saturday, noting that the opposition had grown more extreme in the absence of a unified and funded secular military command.

The position of the US and Qatar contradict Saudi Arabia's more conservative stance towards assisting extremist groups in Syria's opposition.

Saudi's deputy minister of foreign affairs, Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah Al Saud, responded to questions from delegates on Saturday about weapons falling into the hands of extremists in Syria.

"This is our major concern, that this is what will happen in Syria ... I would say that we should look really where weapons are going to and who's going to use them," he said.

For months, Qatar has called for a more aggressive stance towards the provision of arms - a call reiterated at the conference this weekend. Mr Al Attiyah went further, saying the opposition should be given the means to control their airspace.

"I think the people of Syria do not want us to provide them with a no-fly zone. They want us to provide them with the means for them to impose their own no-fly zone," he said. "The lack of means is what is holding them back."

Since the summer, Qatar has been reported to be assisting in arming the opposition, but Mr Al Attiyah said that his country had deferred to international concerns, providing only humanitarian aid.

"If you think that food, medicine and clothes are means of defence, then yes, we have supplied the opposition. We limited ourselves," he said. "The only thing we have been able to do until now is supply humanitarian aid."