Cairo, November 12, 2011 (AFP)
Cairo, November 12, 2011 (AFP)
The Arab League on Saturday suspended Syria until President Bashar al-Assad implements an Arab deal to end violence against protesters, and called for sanctions and transition talks with the opposition.
A statement, read by Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassem Al-Thani, said the League decided “to suspend Syrian delegations’ activities in Arab League meetings” as long as it stalls on the plan and to implement “economic and political sanctions against the Syrian government.”
Syria angrily denounced the suspension as illegal and said it spelled the end of any Arab role in resolving the deadly anti-regime protests sweeping the country.
The decision was “illegal and contrary to the treaty” that set up the pan-Arab organisation, said Syrian Ambassador Yussef Ahmad, quoted by Syrian official media.
He said the moves “put an end to joint Arab action and show that the (League’s) administration is subjected to US and Western agendas.”
Apart from the suspension, which had been sought by the Syrian opposition, the League also called for the withdrawal of Arab ambassadors from Damascus but left the decision to each member state.
Sheikh Hamad told a press conference the decision would take effect on November 16, and that Arab ministers would meet again to decide on specific sanctions.
The statement also called for the protection of civilians and said Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi would contact international organisations concerned with human rights, “including the United Nations,” if the bloodshed continued.
It called for a meeting in Cairo with Syrian opposition groups in three days to “agree a unified vision for the coming transitional period in Syria.” The the opposition would later meet with Arab foreign ministers.
A week of deadly violence in city of Homs overshadowed the meeting, in which ministers had appeared divided on what measure to take but eventually voted by majority on the final statement.
Assad’s regime agreed on November 2 to the Arab roadmap, which called for the release of detainees, the withdrawal of the army from urban areas, free movement for observers and media and negotiations with the opposition.
Instead, human rights groups say, the regime has intensified its crackdown, especially in flashpoint Homs, killing at least 125 people in the city since signing onto the peace deal.
“Homs is a microcosm of the Syrian government?s brutality,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director of Human Rights Watch, which accused the regime of crimes against humanity based on its systematic abuses against civilians.
Human Rights Watch, like protesters and Syrian opposition leaders, urged the Arab League to suspend Syria’s membership as punishment for its brutal eight-month crackdown on dissent.
At least 23 people were killed in violence in Syria on Friday alone, most of them civilians in the flashpoint central city of Homs, which an opposition group declared a “humanitarian disaster area” earlier this week.
On Saturday, three people were killed in clashes in the northwestern region of Idlib, near Turkey, after between 50 and 60 soldiers defected to the opposition, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
And in Homs, security forces carried out raids and arrests in the Bab Sebaa and Bab Dreib districts, it said, adding that “heavy gunfire was heard in the neighbourhood of Baba Amro.”
With NATO ruling out operations and UN Security Council sanctions unlikely because veto-wielding permanent members Russia and China are allies of Assad’s regime, regional actors have come to represent the best avenue to pressure Damascus.
Damascus argues it has moved forward on the deal by releasing 500 prisoners and its envoy to the Arab League expressed on Friday his government’s willingness to receive a pan-Arab delegation.
“This will help assess Damascus’s commitment to the (Arab) plan and to unveil motives behind certain external and internal parties working for the failure of the Arab blueprint,” the official SANA news agency quoted Ahmed as saying.
Despite the Assad regime’s prevarication, the United States insists its days are numbered and says that even Arab leaders are encouraging him to step down quickly.
“Some Arab leaders already have begun to offer Assad safe haven in an effort to encourage him to leave peaceably and quickly,” said Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman.
“Almost all the Arab leaders say the same thing — Assad’s rule is coming to an end. Change in Syria is now inevitable,” Feltman told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a hearing.