Arab ministers gather to discuss Syria sanctions

Diplomats say range of sanctions being considered in attempt to end violent crackdown on protests against Assad.

November 24, 2011 12:00
2 minute read.
Arab League

Arab League 311. (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany)


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CAIRO - Arab foreign ministers gathered in Cairo on Thursday to discuss imposing sanctions on Syria for failing to implement an Arab League plan to end a crackdown on protests against President Bashar Assad.

The League, which for decades has spurned ordering action against a member state, has suspended Syria and threatened unspecified sanctions for ignoring the deal it had signed up to.

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Syria has turned its tanks and troops on civilian protesters, as well as on armed insurgents challenging Assad's 11-year rule. The United Nations says more than 3,500 people have been killed.

"Syria has not offered anything to move the situation forward," said a senior Arab diplomat at the League, adding that it was considering what kind of sanctions to impose.

"The position of the Arab states is almost unified" he said, speaking out against foreign intervention.

The November 12 agreement to suspend Syria was backed by 18 of the pan-Arab organization's 22 members. Lebanon, where Syria for many years had a military presence, and Yemen, battling its own uprising, opposed it. Iraq, whose Shi'ite-led government is wary of offending Syria's main ally Iran, abstained.

Arab ministers were meeting in a Cairo suburb instead of the League's headquarters in Tahrir Square, occupied by protesters after days of clashes with police in nearby streets.

Khaled al-Habasi, an adviser to Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby, said the body was "working on uniting the Syrian opposition on a vision regarding the future of Syria during the transitional period" and drawing up sanctions.

Earlier this month, the League asked Syrian opposition groups to submit their ideas for a transition of power ahead of a planned bigger conference on Syria's future.

"There are many ideas and suggestions for sanctions that can be imposed on the Syrian regime," said one Arab government representative at the League, who asked not to be identified.

These included imposing a travel ban on Syrian officials, freezing bank transfers or funds in Arab states related to Assad's government and stopping Arab projects in Syria, he said.

The decision to draft economic sanctions was taken at a meeting on November 16 in Morocco, stepping up pressure on the Arab state. Damascus agreed to the Arab plan on November 2, but the crackdown continued and Syria requested amendments to a plan to send Arab monitors to assess events at first-hand.

France called on Wednesday for a "secured zone to protect civilians" in Syria, the first time a major Western power has suggested international intervention on the ground.

After the uprising erupted in Libya, the League suspended Tripoli and also called for a no-fly zone that paved the way for a UN Security Council resolution and NATO air strikes.

Arabs have shown no appetite so far for following a similar route with Syria, which neighbors Israel and lies on the fault-lines of several interlocking conflicts in the Middle East.

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