France seeks Arab backing for Syria intervention

Arab League could agree sanctions on Syria; US tells citizens to leave; France proposes "secured zone" for civilians.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman)
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman)
CAIRO/PARIS - France will seek Arab support on Thursday for a humanitarian corridor in Syria, the first time a major power has swung behind international intervention in the eight-month uprising against President Bashar Assad.
Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, who first floated the proposal for a humanitarian intervention on Wednesday, gave more details of the plan and said he would propose it to a meeting of Arab League foreign ministers gathering in Cairo to discuss Syria.
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After months in which the international community has seemed determined to avoid any direct entanglement in one of the core countries of the Middle East, the diplomatic consensus seems to be changing.
The Arab League suspended Syria's membership two weeks ago, accusing Assad of failing to fulfil a November 2 pledge to halt the violence and withdraw troops from cities.
This week, the prime minister of regional heavyweight Turkey - a NATO member with the military wherewithal to mount a cross-border operation - compared Assad to Hitler, Mussolini and Gaddafi, and called on him to quit.
Juppe said international monitors should be sent to protect civilians, with or without Assad's permission. He insisted the proposal fell short of a military intervention, but acknowledged that humanitarian convoys would need armed protection.
"There are two possible ways: That the international community, Arab League and the United Nations can get the regime to allow these humanitarian corridors," he told French radio on Thursday. "But if that isn't the case we'd have to look at other solutions ... with international observers,"
Asked if humanitarian convoys would need military protection, he said: "Of course... by international observers, but there is no question of military intervention in Syria."
He added that he had spoken to partners at the United Nations and US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, and would speak later on Thursday to the Arab League. On Wednesday Juppe also embraced the exiled opposition Syrian National Council as a legitimate group that France sought to work with.
One Arab government representative at the League said measures which the 22-member organisation might consider on Thursday 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.
"There are many ideas and suggestions for sanctions that can be imposed on the Syrian regime," said the official, who asked not to be identified.
The United States and the European Union have already imposed sanctions on senior Syrian officials, its oil sector and several state businesses. An EU official said on Wednesday the bloc was considering fresh financial sanctions.
Washington repeated an appeal on Wednesday for US citizens to leave Syria: "The US Embassy continues to urge US citizens in Syria to depart immediately while commercial transportation is available," the embassy said on its website.
The US navy said the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush arrived this week in the Mediterranean. It made no reference to the unrest in Syria and said the ship would continue through the Mediterranean en route home to the United States.
A Western diplomat in the region said about the US aircraft carrier: "It is probably routine movement but it is going to put psychological pressure on the regime, and the Americans do not mind that".