Arab League approves wide economic sanctions on Syria

League approves sanctions on officials' assets, travel ban; Qatari foreign minister warns that if Arabs don't act to contain crisis, Libya-style foreign intervention may follow.

Qatar PM and FM Sheikh Hamad bin bin Jassim al-Thani_311  (photo credit: Reuters)
Qatar PM and FM Sheikh Hamad bin bin Jassim al-Thani_311
(photo credit: Reuters)
CAIRO - The Arab League approved by a majority vote on Sunday sweeping economic sanctions on Syria over its crackdown on protesters and the Qatari foreign minister said that, if Arabs failed to contain the crisis, other foreign powers could intervene.
Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani has previously said Arabs wanted to avoid a repeat of what happened in Libya, where UN Security Council resolution led to NATO air strikes.
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"All the work that we are doing is to avoid this interference," he said, adding that if the international community did not see that Arabs were "serious" he could not guarantee that such action would be avoided.
The League approved by 19 of the League's 22 members sanctions that included a travel ban on top Syrian officials, freezing assets related to President Bashar Assad's government, halting dealings with Syria's central bank and stopping investments in Syria, Sheikh Hamad told a news conference.
Arab ministers, spurred to action by worsening violence in Syria, were meeting in Cairo on Sunday to plan how to enforce sanctions on President Bashar Assad's government after it failed to implement a regional peace plan.
Ministers told the Arab League's economic and social council to draw up measures after Damascus ignored a deadline to let in Arab monitors and take other steps to end the government crackdown on an eight-month uprising against Assad's rule.
The measures could plunge Syria deeper into economic crisis, although the Arab ministers have said sanctions are not intended to hurt ordinary people.
"Today's meeting will focus on two issues. First approving the decisions taken by the economic council yesterday and finding a way to force them on the Syrian regime that does not let the regime find a way to skirt them," a senior League source said.
"The most important thing we are seeking is that sanctions make a difference and get implemented," he said, asking not to be named because of the sensitivity of the subject.
The League for decades avoided action against its 22 members but the pan-Arab body has been galvanized by pressure from Gulf Arabs already angry at Syria's alliance with their regional rival Iran and changes brought about by Arab uprisings.
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The scale of the bloodshed has also driven Arabs to act.
Hundreds of people, including civilians, soldiers and army deserters, have been killed in Syria this month, possibly the bloodiest since the unrest broke out in March inspired by uprisings which overthrew leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.
The United Nations says more than 3,5000 people have been killed in total.
But some of Syria's neighbors, such as Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan, are wary of damage to trade and commercial interests, or have political reservations.
Other Arab states with restive populations of their own are cautious about setting a precedent.
That means penalties are unlikely to be implemented in any watertight fashion.