Syria: Arab League sets deadline to end 'repression'

Unverified pictures appear to show members of the security forces beating opposition supporters

The Arab League has given Syria three days to "stop the bloody repression" of protesters and allow in teams of observers.

Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim al-Thani said Syria faced sanctions if it did not co-operate.

At a meeting of the Arab League in Morocco, he said diplomatic efforts were "close to the end of the road".

As the meeting took place, angry crowds in Damascus attacked the embassies of Morocco and the United Arab Emirates.

Morocco responded by recalling its ambassador to Syria, AFP news agency reported.

Hours earlier - in another sign of Syria's increasing international isolation - France also said it was withdrawing its ambassador.

Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told parliament: "There has been renewed violence in Syria, which has led me to close our consular offices in Aleppo and in Latakia as well as our cultural institutes and to recall our ambassador to Paris."

Analysis

As diplomatic pressure increases on Damascus, the situation on the ground is deteriorating as well.

Last night, soldiers who defected from the Syrian army mounted an attack on an intelligence base north of Damascus. It was the most significant attack so far by defectors and was remarkable for being against such a high-profile target so close to the capital.

More and more clashes are being reported between the regular army and opponents who now call themselves the Free Syrian Army.

That raises the spectre of this turning into a full-scale civil war.

But Syria has shown little sign of compromise. At today's meeting here in Morocco, Arab ministers are expected to confirm Syria's suspension from the Arab League and possibly impose new measures.

Syria's chair at the meeting is empty after Damascus angrily decided to boycott the meeting. Attitudes are hardening on all sides.

Sheikh Hamad, asked if the Arab League proposal was a last-ditch attempt at diplomacy, told a news conference in Morocco: "We do not want to talk about a last-ditch attempt because I do not want this to sound like a warning.

"What I can say is that we are close to the end of the road as far as the (Arab League's) efforts on this front are concerned."

The statement came hours after reports that rebel Syrian troops had attacked a major military base near Damascus.

Turkey, although not a member of the Arab League, sent its Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to a Turkish-Arab co-operation forum on the fringes of the league's meeting in Rabat.

Turkey, which shares a long border with Syria, has been increasingly critical of President Bashar al-Assad's repression of anti-government protests.

In a joint statement, they demanded "urgent measures... to ensure the protection of civilians" and declared they were against "all foreign intervention in Syria".

Last weekend the Arab League voted to suspend Syria's membership after it failed to honour the terms of an Arab League peace plan.

The plan involved Syria withdrawing tanks from restive cities, stopping attacks on protesters and engaging in dialogue with the opposition within two weeks.

But since then violence across Syria has escalated.

Soldiers killed

Syrian activists say defected soldiers known as the Free Syrian Army launched a pre-dawn attack on the notorious Air Force Intelligence building in the Damascus suburb of Harasta.

Unconfirmed reports said six government soldiers were killed.

Correspondents says such an attack would be the highest profile operation so far by renegade troops.

The Commander of the Free Syrian Army, Ryad al-Asa'ad, who is based in Turkey, told the BBC Arabic Service the international community had let them down in their fight against the regime.

"At the moment no country in the world has helped," he said.

"All of them, every country has refused. Even Turkey has never offered us even one bullet and has even completely banned operations on the border, or on the road to the border. On the other hand, we are from inside Syria, we work inside Syria and the weapons are from Syria."

He said defections were increasing within the Syrian army.

Free Syrian Army

  • Reportedly formed in late July by defected army Col Riyad al-Asad
  • Claims to number some 15,000 although analysts say that is unlikely
  • Aims to "stand up to the irresponsible military machine which is protecting the regime"
  • Says it has carried out a number of attacks on government troops including ambushes

"Thank God, there is a big number [of defectors] the number increases daily. Now, over the past 10 days, defections have been increasing in a very very big way, even officers, a great number are defecting."

Meanwhile, anti-government activists reported further bloodshed across Syria on Wednesday.

The Local Co-ordination Committees (LCC) said 11 people had been killed in Homs, seven in Idlib and one each in Daraa and the suburbs of Damascus.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on its Facebook page that three defectors and a civilian were shot dead in Keferzita, Hama province.

Some 376 people had been killed since the announcement of the Arab League initiative on 2 November, the LCC said.

The UN says more than 3,500 people have died since protests started in March. Syrian authorities blame the violence on armed gangs and militants.

The Syrian government has severely restricted access for foreign journalists, and reports are difficult to verify.

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