- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 17, 2012

BEIRUT — Syria “absolutely rejects” any plans to send foreign Arab troops into the country, the foreign ministry said Tuesday, as the death toll mounted from the 10-month-old uprising against President Bashar Assad.

Mr. Assad has insisted there be no foreign intervention in Syria. He agreed under heavy regional pressure to admit some Arab League observers, but their effectiveness has been limited.

Activists said at least 18 people died Tuesday, and six Syrian soldiers were killed late Monday near Damascus. The revolt has turned increasingly militarized in recent months, with a growing risk of civil war. The United Nations says about 400 people have been killed in the last three weeks, on top of an earlier estimate of more than 5,000 dead since March.

Syrian activists said most of Tuesday’s dead were shot by security forces or pro-regime gunmen. The reports could not be independently verified.

Attacks also were reported for a fifth day in the Damascus suburb of Zabadani, near the border with Lebanon.

The government rejection of armed intervention followed a remark from the leader of Qatar, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, who was quoted Sunday as saying troops from other Arab countries should be sent to Syria to stop the deadly violence. His remark was the first by an Arab leader calling for the deployment of troops inside Syria.

Qatar, which once had close relations with Syria, has been a harsh critic of the crackdown. Since the wave of Arab uprisings 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 Syrian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The government claims terrorists are behind the uprising, not reform-seekers, and that armed gangs are acting out a foreign conspiracy to destabilize the country. The regime says 2,000 members of the security forces have been killed.

Syria agreed last month to an Arab League plan that calls for a halt to the crackdown, the withdrawal of heavy weaponry like tanks from cities, the release of all political prisoners, and allowing foreign journalists and human rights workers in.

About 150 Arab League observers are working in Syria to verify whether the government is abiding by its agreement, and the league said Tuesday another 10 will head into Syria shortly.

So far they appear to have made little impact, and the conflict has reached a bloody stalemate, with both sides refusing to back down.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 18 people were killed in Syria on Tuesday, most of them fatally shot by troops or pro-government gunmen.