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” if it continued to stall the Arab plan and to implement “economic and political sanctions against the Syrian government”.
It also called for the withdrawal of Arab ambassadors from Damascus but left the decision to each Arab state.
Sheikh Hamad said at a press conference the decision would take effect on November 16.
The statement warned that Arab League secretary general 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.”
A week of deadly violence in city of Homs had overshadowed the meeting in which Arab ministers appeared divided on what measure to take but eventually voted by majority on the final statement.
Assad’s regime agreed on November 2 to an Arab roadmap which called for the release of detainees, the withdrawal of the army from urban areas and free movement for observers and the media, as well as negotiations with the opposition.
Instead, human rights groups say, the regime has intensified its crackdown on dissent, especially in flashpoint Homs, killing at least 125 people in the city since signing onto the League’s 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 of the pan-Arab bloc 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 Homs, which an opposition group declared a “humanitarian disaster area” earlier this week.
Syrian security forces carried out new raids and arrests in the Homs neighbourhoods of Al-Sebaa, Bab al-Dareeb and Baba Amro on Saturday and gunfire was reported in the morning, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.
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 says 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 US 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. — AFP