Arab League sanctions for Syria

 

Protesters gathered at the funerals of three people killed in yesterday's demonstrations

The Arab League has voted to suspend Syria from its meetings and impose sanctions against Damascus over its failure to end a government crackdown on protesters.

It asked member states to withdraw their ambassadors, and urged Damascus to end violence against protesters.

The vote came after Syria ignored an Arab League proposal envisaging the start of dialogue with the opposition.

But Syria's representative said the decision violated the league's charter.

Youssef Ahmed told Syrian state TV said it showed the league was "serving a Western and American agenda".

In Damascus, hundreds of Syrian government supporters threw rocks at the Saudi embassy, and some managed to get in, smashing windows and sacking the building, the Saudi state news agency SPA reported.

Saudi Arabia was one of the Arab League members which voted in favour of the suspension.

US President Barack Obama applauded the decision, and vowed to support the Syrian people "in the face of the regime's callous violence".

In London, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said the continuing violence was "deplorable and must stop".

The Arab League proposals - accepted by the government of President Bashar al-Assad - include the release of prisoners, the withdrawal of security forces from the streets and talks between the government and opposition.

Analysis

The Arab League has taken much more dramatic action against Syria than anyone expected.

Not only is Syria being suspended from the league, opposition supporters are being invited to Arab League headquarters in Cairo to help them form a united front.

In other words, the assembled Arab governments are moving close to supporting the Syrian opposition against the government of President Assad.

That will be a huge blow to the self-esteem of President Assad and his ruling circle. Not surprisingly, Syria quickly lashed out against the decision, condemning the Arab League as a tool of American policy.

And it will be taken as a big boost by the Syrian opposition, though many activists want much more, including the imposition of a no-fly zone.

It probably will not change much on the ground in the short term. But opponents of President Assad's government will be hoping that this move speeds up what they see as his inevitable demise.

But the violence has continued, with the city of Homs bearing the brunt, say human rights activists. Twelve died on Saturday.

US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a report this week documenting allegations of torture and unlawful killings in the city, and called on the Arab League to step up pressure on Damascus.

President Assad has sought to put down the protests since March. The UN says more than 3,500 people have died in the protests so far.

'Concern for Syria'

Eighteen Arab League member states voted at the Cairo meeting to suspend Syria, with Syria, Lebanon and Yemen voting against and Iraq abstaining.

The BBC's Jon Leyne in Cairo says the decision is the most that anyone could have realistically expected from the Arab League.

It is a huge blow to Syria's pride, and could also be a real practical blow to its leaders, our correspondent adds.

But opposition groups are already calling for more action, he says, including a no-fly zone.

Arab League proposals

  • End to violence and killing
  • Access to Arab and international media
  • Releasing prisoners recently detained
  • Withdrawing all military equipment from Syrian cities
  • Government-opposition dialogue within two weeks

Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim said the suspension would take effect on Wednesday, adding that talks would be held with Syrian opposition groups in three days' time.

"We were criticised for taking a long time but this was out of our concern for Syria," he said, quoted by Reuters news agency.

"We needed to have a majority to approve those decisions.

"We are calling all Syrian opposition parties to a meeting at the Arab League headquarters to agree a unified vision for the transitional period."

'Not Libya'

Mr Jassim said that if the violence and killing did not stop, the Arab League would contact human rights organisations and the UN and "set a vision for the appropriate measures to stop that bloodshed".

This vision would be submitted to another league meeting on 16 November, he added.

Graphic

The Arab League's condemnation of violence by Col Muammar Gaddafi's government in Libya and call for a no-fly zone paved the way for a UN Security Council resolution protecting civilians and a Nato-led mission there.

But Mr Jassim denied that Saturday's decision would lead to international intervention in Syria.

"No-one is talking about a no-fly zone, people are trying to mix up the cases. None of us is talking about this kind of decision," he said.

Violence continued in Syria on Saturday with 12 people killed, the Local Co-ordination Committees said - four of them were in Deraa and three each in Homs and Idlib.

Thirteen people died on Friday, most of them in Homs.

There were also reports of violence and mass arrests in the capital, Damascus.

Mass street protests after Friday prayers, followed by brutal crackdowns by security forces have become a weekly feature of Syria's uprising.

President Assad's government insists it is battling armed gangs and militants and says hundreds of soldiers and police have been killed.

The government has restricted foreign journalists from entering the country, making it difficult to confirm events on the ground.

Syria's anti-government protests, inspired by events in Tunisia and Egypt, first erupted in mid-March after the arrest of a group of teenagers who spray-painted a revolutionary slogan on a wall. The protests soon spread, and the UN says 3,500 people have died in the turmoil - mainly protestors but also members of Syria's security forces - while thousands more have been injured.
Although the arrest of the teenagers in the southern city of Deraa first prompted people to take to the streets, unrest has since spread to other areas, including Hama, Homs, Latakia, Jisr al-Shughour and Baniyas. Demonstrators are demanding greater freedom, an end to corruption, and, increasingly, the ousting of President Bashar al-Assad.
The government has responded to the protests with overwhelming military force, sending tanks and troops into towns and cities. Amateur video footage shows tanks and snipers firing on unarmed protesters. There may have been an armed element to the uprising from its early days and army deserters have formed the Free Syrian Army.
Some of the bloodiest events have taken place in the northern town of Jisr al-Shughour. In early June, officials claimed 120 security personnel were killed by armed gangs, however protesters said the dead were shot by troops for refusing to kill demonstrators. As the military moved to take control of the town, thousands fled to neighbouring Turkey, taking refuge in camps.
Although the major cities of Damascus and Aleppo have seen pockets of unrest and some protests, it has not been widespread - due partly to a heavy security presence. There have been rallies in the capital - one with an enormous Syrian flag - in support of President Assad, who still receives the backing of many in Syria's middle class, business elite and minority groups.
The Assad family has been in power for 40 years, with Bashar al-Assad inheriting office in 2000. The president has opened up the economy, but has continued to jail critics and control the media. He is from the minority Alawite sect - an offshoot of Shia Islam - but the country's 20 million people are mainly Sunni. The biggest protests have been in Sunni-majority areas.
The uprising has cost 3,500 lives, according to the UN and Jordan's King Abdullah says that President Assad should now step down. The Arab League has suspended Syria's membership and voted for sanctions. The EU has frozen the assets of Syrian officials, placed an arms embargo on Syria and banned imports of its oil. But fears remain of Syria collapsing into civil war.
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  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 91.

    Not sure what creditability Arab League has or whose interest are they serving. Why not take action against Yemen and Bahrain for what they are doing to their citizen as well.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 90.

    It appears that other Arab League States see the direction in which the wind is blowing and are now distancing themselves from Assad and his leadership. This gesture is more telling than any associated UN resolution and the pompous preaching of the World's so-called democracies.

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 26.

    Several of the Arab league members are genuinely forward looking and vehemently anti-repression. A few more have just thrown off the shackles of malevolent dictators. Many of the others are nervously looking over their shoulders, trying to reassure their own populations that they are actually nice chaps. That's one way to get a decent voting majority.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 13.

    Far too often organisations like the African League have proved how useless they are by condoning violent and oppressive regimes.
    This is an opportunity for the Arab League to show independant leadership by showing that it can bring Middle East public opinion and political pressure to bear.

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 1.

    It's about time too. The league has been dithering about taking some form of action against Syria for far too long. The more pressure from as varied as possible corners, then the more the regime may take note, not that much will happen until someone dares to find a way to exert real pressure of course.

 
 

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