Syria Under Pressure After Arab League Move Amid Calls for Assad to Resign
International pressure on Syria mounted, with calls for President Bashar al-Assad to quit, after the country was suspended from the Arab League over his government’s eight-month crackdown on protesters.
The European Union widened its sanctions on Syria, Turkey suspended joint oil and gas exploration in the country and King Abdullah of Jordan said Assad should step down. In Saudi Arabia, the Jeddah-based Arab News, which has links to the kingdom’s royal family, published an editorial yesterday with the headline “It is time for Assad to go.”
The Syrian National Council, made up of leading opposition figures, said today it was working for a United Nations resolution to protect the Syrian people. Assad should announce his intention to abandon power and implement the conditions set out by the Arab League before any dialogue with the opposition can start, Burhan Ghalioun, the council’s head, said after talks with Russian officials in Moscow today.
Assad’s government has continued targeting dissenters since saying it accepted a Nov. 2 Arab League plan to end the violence. Syrian security forces killed five people today, Al Arabiya television reported, citing activists on the Local Coordination Committees. More than 4,000 protesters have been killed since unrest broke out in mid-March, Ghalioun said.
Assad has blamed foreign provocateurs and Islamic militants for the violence surrounding protests that erupted in March.
Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem called the Arab League’s decision to suspend the country’s membership “very dangerous” and said the bloc had given in to external pressure. U.S. support for the organization’s decision was “incitement,” he said yesterday during a news conference televised from Damascus, a day after his government called for an emergency summit of the Cairo-based Arab League to address Syria’s crisis.
Arab League Secretary-General Nabil el-Arabi said yesterday that 15 of the group’s 22 members must agree for such a meeting to take place. Syria’s call for a summit is not viable, Abdullatif Al Zayani, secretary-general of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council said today, according to the official Kuwait News Agency.
Jordan’s Abdullah, referring to Assad, told the British Broadcasting Corp. that “if I were in his shoes, I would step down,” in an interview aired yesterday. After the broadcast, a crowd stormed the Jordanian Embassy in Damascus and tore down the national flag, Jordanian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Kayed said. Syrian police near the embassy took no action to stop them, he said in an interview.
Apology for Attacks
There were attacks on other diplomatic missions in Syria, including those of Saudi Arabia, Turkey and France, following the Arab League decision to suspend Syria. Al-Muallem apologized for the attacks.
U.S. President Barack Obama said the Arab League’s action shows “the increasing diplomatic isolation of a regime that has systematically violated human rights.”
The Arab League will send 500 monitors from civil-society groups, along with military experts, to areas of unrest in Syria, Ibrahim al-Zaafarani, an official from the Arab Doctors’ Union, said after meeting el-Arabi yesterday. The League said on Nov. 12 that Syria will be barred from meetings until it withdraws tanks from cities, releases detained protesters and starts supervised talks with the opposition. It called on all Arab countries to withdraw ambassadors, and said it plans economic and political sanctions.
Syrian authorities today freed Kamal Labwani, a prominent opposition figure who has been held in jail for six years, Al Arabiya said, without saying where it got the information.
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