Arab League meeting to enforce Syria suspension

RABAT, Morocco — Foreign ministers from the 22-member Arab League are expected on Wednesday to formalize their decision to suspend Syria from the organization for refusing to end its bloody crackdown on anti-government protesters.

By (AP)

Published: Fri 18 Nov 2011, 1:06 AM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 9:34 AM

The suspension, a surprisingly harsh move for a member of Syria’s standing, took effect Wednesday but is being reviewed by the Arab League as a matter of normal procedure and could be upheld or overturned.

Violence has continued to wrack the increasingly isolated Syria, despite its agreement on Nov. 2 to an Arab-brokered peace deal that called for the regime to halt its attacks on protesters, pull tanks and armored vehicles out of cities, release political prisoners, and allow journalists and rights groups into the country.

“What has happened in Syria is very sad for all of us. We cannot accept that people are being killed in the way they are now. We are moving to stop the flow of blood,” said Qatari Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim, whose country has taken the lead in isolating Syria. “The Syrian government must apply the Arab League plan.”

The Arab League has rarely taken decisive actions to deal with the crises in the Arab world out of reluctance to criticize fellow governments. But in this case, several members have described their forceful engagement in the Syrian situation as a way of staving off the kind of foreign intervention that took place in Libya earlier this year. NATO’s bombing campaign against Libya took place less than a month after it was suspended by the Arab League on Feb. 22.

“Arab leaders don’t have a legacy of commenting and interfering in domestic events in Arab countries, so now this is a turning point for the Arab League,” said Gamal Abdel Gawad, a Cairo-based commentator on Arab affairs.

“Arab governments are being exposed to pressure from their public, from the Syrian people and on the international level, so the Arab League has to do something — they can’t keep staying on the sidelines,” he added.

Even Turkey, which once had close ties with Syria, has expressed increasing concern over the situation across the border.

“We denounce the mass murder of the Syrian people,” said Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who was in Morocco for a meeting on Arab-Turkish ties. “It is all of our responsibility to end the bloodshed in Syria.”

The suspension decision has enraged Syria, which considers itself a bastion of Arab nationalism. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mouallem boycotted the meeting.

Damascus fears the United States and its allies might use the rare Arab consensus to press for tougher sanctions at the United Nations. Veto-wielding Russia and China have so far opposed efforts at the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions on Syria — a stance that could become harder to maintain in the face of the Arab position.

The deputy secretary general of the Arab League suggested that the suspension would probably go ahead and discussions would center on setting up an Arab monitoring group.

“They are in the midst of negotiating with the Syrian government the formation of an observer commission and are discussing its composition and its exact mission,” said Ahmed Benhelli. “This commission will see if Syria is in compliance with the Arab League plan.”

Once the commission has decided Syria is in compliance, Syria will be restored to the Arab League, he added.

In the final statement for Wednesday’s Arab-Turkish forum, which called for urgent steps to be taken to halt the violence, the ministers emphasized “the importance of the stability and unity of Syria and the need for the resolution of the crisis without any foreign intervention.”

No one has yet detailed the nature of the urgent steps, but there has been speculation that Arab League safe havens might be created along the border with Turkey to pressure the Syrian regime.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal would not comment if there were any plans for military intervention, only saying that the situation must end. “They must stop the bloodshed and think of the Syrian people,” he told AP.

Moroccan Foreign Minister Taieb Fassi Fihri also told journalists that league members had been in touch with the Syrian opposition.

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