Arab League Suspends Syria, Damascus Considers Decision ‘End to Joint Arab Action’

The Arab League suspended Syria on Saturday until President Bashar Assad implements an Arab deal to end violence against protesters, and called for sanctions and transition talks with the opposition.

Syrian envoy Youssef Ahmed angrily denounced the move as illegal, saying Damascus had already implemented the deal and claiming the United States had ordered the suspension.

Ahmed charged that the League with trying to "provoke foreign intervention in Syria, as was the case in Libya."

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" and to implement "economic and political sanctions" against Damascus.

The suspension will last "until the total implementation (by Syria) of the Arab plan for resolving the crisis accepted by Damascus on November 2."

But Ahmed told a Cairo press conference that Damascus had "implemented all the articles of the agreement," even though at least 125 people have reportedly been killed in the flashpoint city of Homs alone since the deal was inked.

"It was clear (the decision) was decided through a U.S. order," he said, accusing the League of working for an "American agenda."

Ahmed also said the moves decided by the organization’s foreign ministers by a majority vote "put an end to joint Arab action and show that the (League's) administration is subjected to U.S. and Western agendas."

Apart from the suspension, which had been sought by the Syrian opposition, the League called for the withdrawal of Arab ambassadors from Damascus but left the decision to each member state.

Sheikh Hamad said the measures would take effect on Wednesday, and that Arab ministers would meet again to decide on specific sanctions.

The statement also called for the protection of civilians and said League chief Nabil al-Arabi would contact international organizations, 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 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 on the final statement with 18 in favor, three against and one abstention.

Under the November 2 deal, Assad's regime agreed to release detainees, withdraw the army from urban areas, allow free movement for observers and media and negotiated with the opposition.

Instead, human rights groups say, the regime has intensified its crackdown, especially in Homs.

"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.

With NATO ruling out operations and U.N. 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 for pressure.

Damascus argues it has moved forward on the deal by releasing 500 prisoners, and Ahmed had on Friday expressed his government's willingness to receive a pan-Arab delegation.

The United States, which has called on Assad to step down, insists his regime's days are numbered and that even Arab leaders are encouraging him to go.

"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.

Source: Agence France Presse

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