Syria 'absolutely rejects' calls for Arab troops

By ELIZABETH A. KENNEDY | January 17, 2012 | 8:10 AM EST

A freed Syrian prisoner, left, hugs his relative, right, after being released from Adra Prison on the northeast outskirts of Damascus, Syria, on Monday Jan. 16, 2012. Syria's state news agency SANA said on Sunday President Bashar Assad has granted a general amnesty for crimes committed during the unrest of the past 10-months. SANA said the amnesty issued Sunday covers those who have peacefully demonstrated, those who have carried unlicensed weapons and those who hand over their weapons to authorities before the end of January. (AP Photo/Muzaffar Salman)

BEIRUT (AP) — Syria "absolutely rejects" any plans to send Arab troops into the country, the Foreign Ministry said Tuesday, even as the death toll mounts from 10 months of violent conflict.

Thousands of people have been killed in the regime's crackdown on the anti-Assad revolt, which has turned increasingly militarized in recent months with a growing risk of civil war. The U.N. says about 400 people have been killed in the last three weeks, on top of an earlier estimate of more than 5,000 killed since March.

The leader of Qatar, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, was quoted Sunday as saying Arab troops should be sent to Syria to stop the deadly violence — the first statements by an Arab leader calling for the deployment of troops inside Syria.

Qatar, which once had close relations with Damascus, has been a harsh critic of President Bashar Assad's crackdown. The wealthy Gulf state withdrew its ambassador to Syria in the summer to protest the killings. Since the Arab Spring began more than a year ago, Qatar has taken an aggressive role, raising its influence in the region.

"The Syrian people reject any foreign intervention in its affairs, under any title, and would confront any attempt to infringe upon Syria's sovereignty and the integrity of its territories," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The government says terrorists are behind the uprising — not reform-seekers — and that armed gangs are acting out a foreign conspiracy to destabilize the country.

Syria's state media, SANA, said Tuesday that an "armed terrorist group" launched rocket-propelled grenades at an army checkpoint late Monday, killing an officer and five army personnel about 6 miles (9 kilometers) southwest of Damascus.