Arab League stops short of suspending Syria, urges dialogue

Syria "has reservations" about call for dialogue, says "it is capable of running its own affairs and security."

Arab League 311 (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany)
Arab League 311
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany)
CAIRO/AMMAN - Arab foreign ministers stopped short of suspending Syria from their regional organization on Sunday over its military crackdown on dissent, instead urging the government and opposition to negotiate an end to the violence.
"We will call all of the parties of the opposition and government to hold a dialogue within 15 days," the League's Secretary General Nabil Elaraby said after the meeting. It should be held at Arab League headquarters and a Syria-based committee would be set up to work to end violence.
Disappointed protesters began banging on the doors of the Arab League building as Qatar's Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani read out the decision.
"The people demand the suspension of Syria's membership at the Arab League!" the protesters chanted.
Initial reaction from Syria was also negative.
"Syria has reservations on the call by the League for a comprehensive dialogue to take place at its headquarters and says it is capable of running its own affairs and security," Syrian state television said.
Arab governments were silent for months while Syrian President Bashar Assad's troops tried to put down the uprising with tanks and machine guns.
But the country is now in danger of descending into a civil war that could destabilize its neighbors.
Arab states have demanded an end to the bloodshed and called for political reform but do not agree on how to apply pressure.
A permanent delegate to the League told Reuters earlier that the emergency meeting of the ministers would consider suspending Syria's membership but that some states opposed such a move.
The United Nations says 3,000 people have died in the crackdown including at least 187 children.
Thousands of Syrian troops opened fire in the resort town of Zabadani on the border with Lebanon on Sunday, residents and activists said, a day after heavy fighting in the area between army defectors and loyalist forces.
More than 100 civil society groups issued a collective appeal to the League's Secretary General Nabil Elaraby to isolate Syria's government and cooperate with United Nations investigations of alleged human rights abuses.
"I met with all parties of the opposition and they all said they were against suspending Syria's membership as that would cut off all links between Syria and the Arab League," Elaraby told reporters.