|AL & Turkish FM
Arab League approved “Unprecedented” Sanctions on Syria
(DP-news- agencies )
CAIRO- The Arab League overwhelmingly approved sanctions Sunday against Syria to pressure Damascus to end its deadly eight-month crackdown on dissent, an unprecedented move by the League against an Arab state.
The Arab League (AL) decided Sunday to impose sanctions against Syria, as the country failed to sign a protocol before the deadline of Friday over the visit of an AL observer mission.
At a press conference in Cairo, Qatari Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim said 19 of the League's 22 member nations approved the sanctions, which include cutting off transactions with the Syrian central bank and halting Arab government funding for projects in Syria. Iraq and Lebanon abstained.
"Today, we are very sad to hold such a meeting as the Syrian government has not signed the observer mission," said Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani. "Syria is an important regional country. We are very concerned about the Syrian crisis. So we made the decision."
"We aim to avoid any suffering for the Syrian people," bin Jassim said.
The sanctions got support from 19 members of the 22-member pan- Arab body except for Iraq and Lebanon. Syria's membership was suspended on Nov. 16.
Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby confirmed the bloc will reconsider the sanctions if Syria carries out an Arab-brokered peace plan that includes sending observers to the country and pulling tanks from the streets.
"We call on Syria to quickly approve the Arab initiative," he said.
The Arab League's recommendations for sanctions also specified that the Arab bloc will assist Syria with emergency aid through the help of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent, working with local civilian groups to deliver goods.
The sanctions included a travel ban on senior Syrian officials, the list of whom will be decided by an implementation committee, and the suspension of business with the Syrian Central Bank and the Syrian government.
The package also included suspending the trade with the Syrian government except for some strategic commodities, freezing the Syrian government's funds in the Arab countries, assigning the Arab central banks to monitor loans concerning Syria, and halting financial transfer from the Arab central banks to the Syrian central bank except for the remittance of overseas Syrian workers to their families and citizens of Arab countries in Syria.
In Damascus, Syrian government said the move was "an unprecedented measure" –something which none of the League's members is likely to dispute.
There is no sign of any change in Syrian government policy, or now even what that change would accomplish given the intensity of attacks on both sides.
Associated Press quoted Syria state-owned Al-Thawra newspaper which ran a front-page headline Sunday saying the Arab League is calling for "economic and commercial sanctions targeting the Syrian people."
Al-Thawra newspaper said the measure is "unprecedented and contradicts the rules of Arab cooperation."
Since the revolt began, Syria regime has blamed armed gangs acting out a foreign conspiracy for the bloodshed, according to AP report.
Media reports, until recently, most of the casualties and bloodshed were caused by security forces firing on mainly peaceful protests. Lately, there have been growing reports of army defectors and armed civilians fighting President al-Assad's forces — a development that some say plays into the regime's hands by giving government troops a pretext to crack down with overwhelming force.
On Sunday, activists reported fierce clashes in the flashpoint city of Homs, in central Syria, pitting soldiers against army defectors.
The death toll from violence in Homs and elsewhere across the country was mounting Sunday. The Local Coordinating Committees, a coalition of Syrian activist groups, put the toll at 26, but the figure was impossible to confirm.
Media reports indicated “Many of the attacks against Syrian security forces are believed to be carried out by a group of army defectors known as the Free Syrian Army.”
Syria has banned most foreign journalists and prevented independent reporting inside the country.
The AL sanctions are the latest in a growing wave of international pressure pushing Syria to end its violent suppression of protests against President Bashar al-Assad`s regime, which the U.N. says has killed more than 3,500 people since March.
It is not clear whether Arab sanctions will succeed in pressuring the Syrian regime into ending the violence that has killed dozens of Syrians, week after week. Many fear the violence is pushing the country toward civil war.
Also Sunday, Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh acknowledged that 100 Syrian military and police deserters have taken refuge in the kingdom during the uprising. It was the first official public confirmation that Jordan hosts Syrian defectors.
Judeh told The Associated Press that the Syrian soldiers and policemen, whom he claimed were conscripts rather than officers, had arrived in batches over the last eight months.
Media reports, also on Sunday, reassured that Syria is a geographical and political keystone in the heart of the Middle East, bordering five countries with which it shares religious and ethnic minorities and, in Israel's case, a fragile truce. Its web of allegiances extends to Lebanon's powerful Hezbollah movement and Iran's theocracy.