Arab League Suspends Syrian Membership for Civilian Attacks

The Arab League suspended Syria for violence against civilian demonstrators protesting the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.

U.S. President Barack Obama in a statement said the Arab League’s action yesterday shows “the increasing diplomatic isolation of a regime that has systematically violated human rights.” France also welcomed the suspension and urged increased international pressure on Syria.

Assad’s government has continued to crack down on dissenters since agreeing to a Nov. 2 Arab League plan for ending the violence. Syrian security forces killed 24 people across the country yesterday, Al Jazeera television said, citing activists.

Anti-regime protests erupted in Syria in mid-March, inspired by uprisings that toppled the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt and led to the death last month of Libya’s long-time ruler, Muammar Qaddafi. More than 3,500 protesters have been killed in Syria, the United Nations said Nov. 8.

Assad has blamed the fighting on Islamic militants and foreign provocateurs. Thousands of Syrians gathered yesterday across different cities to condemn the Arab League’s decision, the official Syrian Arab News Agency reported.

After the Arab League action, protesters also stormed Saudi Arabia’s embassy in the Syrian capital, Damascus, late yesterday, breaking windows and “tampering with its contents,” the state-run Saudi Press Agency reported. Saudi Arabia condemned the attack and said it holds the Syrian government responsible for the safety of all Saudi interests in the country, SPA reported today, citing unidentified officials in the foreign ministry.

Opposition Group

The Syrian National Council, an umbrella opposition group set up Oct. 3, in a statement welcomed the Arab League’s action.

Of the Arab League’s 22 members, 18 voted at the group’s meeting in Cairo for Syria’s suspension, with Iraq abstaining and Yemen and Lebanon opposing the plan, Qatar’s Prime Minister Hamad bin Jasim Al Thani told reporters.

The league called on all Arab countries to withdraw ambassadors from Damascus, and it plans to impose economic and political sanctions on Syria, Hamad said, without giving further details.

Syria will be barred from Arab League meetings until it withdraws tanks from its cities, releases detained protesters and starts supervised talks with the opposition, the league said in a statement handed to reporters yesterday in Cairo.

Syrian Reaction

Syria isn’t concerned by the Arab League decision, which isn’t “worth the ink it was written with,” Youssef Ahmed, head of the Syrian delegation to the group, told reporters in Cairo. “The Arab League is applying a U.S. and Western agenda in the region,” he said.

“It’s a hard line, and increases Syria’s isolation substantially,” said Andrew Tabler, a Syria analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, in an e-mailed response to questions. “Phrases about sanctions, political and economic, are major moves.”

Syria is committed to implementing the Arab League’s plan and has withdrawn its military from cities and ordered an amnesty for those who now hand in their weapons, Ahmed, the Syrian envoy, said earlier in a copy of a speech handed to reporters in Cairo. Syria has released 553 prisoners and will continue to release others gradually, he said.

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