Cracks show as Arab League to meet again on Syria

November 14, 2011 4:14 am


People splash around in a fountain during a rally to show their support for their President Bashar al-Assad/AFP
DAMASCUS, Nov 14 – The Arab League is to hold a fresh meeting on Syria on Wednesday, an official said, amid signs of cracks in the resolve of the 22-member bloc to suspend Damascus over its lethal crackdown on protests.

Sunday’s announcement of a new meeting came just a day after the League announced Syria’s imminent suspension, drawing international praise but sparking mob attacks on foreign embassies in Damascus.

“We have decided on a meeting of foreign ministers of the Arab League on November 16 at Rabat, on Syria,” on the sidelines of a Turkey-Arab world forum, Algerian foreign ministry spokesman Amar Belani told AFP in Algiers.

Belani said that at a meeting in Cairo on November 2, the Arab League’s foreign ministers had decided to give Syria 15 days to implement a peace plan Damascus had agreed that day with the League.

Saturday’s vote to suspend Syria from the Arab League was not consistent with that earlier decision, he added.

Earlier Sunday, Algerian Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci had suggested that the Arab League’s suspension of Syria from its ranks was only temporary.

“The suspension of Syria is temporary and we will be able to lift it as quickly as possible,” he said at a joint press conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amer.

The League’s foreign ministers at a meeting in Cairo on Saturday voted 18-22 to suspend Syria with effect from November 16 over its failure to comply with an agreement to end its crackdown on protests, which according to the United Nations have left at 3,500 people dead since mid-March.

Syria, Yemen and Lebanon voted against the measure while Iraq abstained.

The foreign ministers recommended the withdrawal of Arab envoys from Damascus and agreed on sanctions, while inviting “all currents in the Syrian opposition” to meet at its Cairo headquarters in Cairo to map out a transition.

It said the suspension would remain in place until President Bashar al-Assad implements the November 2 accord which his government signed, in which Damascus was to release detainees, withdraw the army from urban areas, allow free movement for observers and media, and negotiate with the opposition.

The Arab League resolution won widespread praise from the international community, with UN chief Ban Ki-moon praising the “strong and courageous” call, while the opposition Syrian National Council said the decision was a “step in the right direction.”

In a surprise announcement seen as an attempt to head off the suspension, Syrian state television said on Sunday Damascus had called for an urgent summit of the Arab League “to address the crisis and its negative consequences in the Arab world.”

The report came even as Arab League head Nabil al-Arabi was announcing that the pan-Arab group would be “studying mechanisms it could implement to protect civilians in Syria.”

Arabi hailed the League’s decision to suspend Syria as “historic,” and said it had called for the “international protection” of civilians in the country as it did not have the means to act alone.

The League’s decision prompted an outpouring of anger among Assad’s supporters who surged in their tens of thousands into central Damascus on Sunday to show their support for the president.

“The Syrian people are filling the squares of the nation and announce their rejection of the Arab League decision,” state television said, showing more protests in the commercial hub of Aleppo and other cities.

Late Saturday, hundreds of angry demonstrators had attacked the embassies of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which were among the countries that voted to suspend Syria. The attacks sparked howls of international outrage.

“The Saudi government strongly condemns this incident and holds the Syrian authorities responsible for the security and protection of all Saudi interests in Syria,” SPA quoted the Saudi foreign ministry as saying on Sunday.

Anatolia news agency said thousands of protesters had also attacked Turkey’s diplomatic missions in Syria, furious over Ankara’s support for the Arab League decision.

In response, Turkey ordered the evacuation of non-essential diplomatic personnel from Syria, Anatolia reported.

“The attitude of the Syrian government… demonstrates the need for the international community to respond with a united voice to the serious developments in Syria,” Turkey’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

France also condemned protesters’ attacks on diplomatic missions in Syria and summoned the Syrian ambassador.

Russia meanwhile said it will continue exporting arms to Syria since no international decision has been made outlawing it.

“Since there is no restriction on arms deliveries to Syria, Russia respects its contractual obligations with the country,” deputy director of the Russian Federal Military and Technical Cooperation Service (FSVTS) Viacheslav Dzirkaln said at the Dubai air show, as quoted by the news agency Interfax.

Activists accused the regime’s security forces of killing at least nine people on Sunday in the restive central cities of Homs and Hama, while also reporting that two members of the security forces were killed in an ambush.

In the eastern city of Deir Ezzor, a 15-year-old boy was killed when “security forces opened fire to disperse a group of students who tried to join a demonstration,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.


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