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Qatar says aid for Syria rebels and Islamists won't harm region

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

By Stephen Brown

BERLIN (Reuters) - Qatar on Tuesday rejected criticism that it risked destabilising the Middle East by supporting rebels in Syria or the Muslim Brotherhood and said it was helping people but did not interfere in governments.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has accused Arab states who are arming and sheltering rebel fighters of actions that could "create a domino effect throughout the Middle East and beyond", with Saudi Arabia and Qatar clearly in mind.

"Assad is not completely right," Qatar's Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani told a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel after talks in Berlin.

Qatar had tried to convince Damascus early in the uprising to consider reforms but met "obstruction by Assad and the belief that there could only be a military solution", the sheikh said, speaking in Arabic through a German interpreter.

"Our goal is to help the Syrian people realise their wishes and aspirations," he said, adding that Merkel had echoed this view in their detailed discussion of the two-year-old conflict in which the United Nations estimates 70,000 people have died.

Merkel said Assad had lost his legitimacy and was "not open at the moment to a political solution. This defines Germany's course and in this sense we are working together with Qatar."

Germany will not arm the rebels as its constitution bars it from sending weapons to conflict zones, Merkel said. But she acknowledged that some European Union member states did want to arm them and that the EU had provided some logistical aid.

"So the question of which side we are on is beyond dispute," said the chancellor.

Gas-rich Qatar's backing of the Libyan uprising and more recently of Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood have also caused concern, including among near neighbours like the United Arab Emirates where the Islamist group is banned and was linked to a coup plot this year.

"I know of course, as you do, that neighbouring countries have indeed made these accusations against us, some brothers I would say. But there are many rumours and what really counts are deeds," Sheikh Hamad said.

The Qatari prime minister said the Brotherhood had come to power via elections in Tunisia and Egypt, not thanks to Qatar.

"Do not worry: we are very conscious of what we are doing and we support only the will of the people and do not interfere with countries' governments," he said.

"We did not bring the Muslim Brotherhood to power, we began to support Egypt before the Muslim Brothers came to power. Then, after the change, we provided financial and political support," he said.

Sheikh Hamad is heading a delegation of Qatari businessmen and government officials in Berlin for an investment conference.

(Editing by Gareth Jones and Michael Roddy)

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/thomson-reuters/130416/qatar-says-aid-syria-rebels-and-islamists-wont-harm-region