The Arab League voted Saturday to suspend Syria in four days and warned that the regime could face sanctions if it does not end its bloody crackdown against anti-government protesters. The decision was a symbolic blow to a nation that prides itself on being a powerhouse of Arab nationalism.
Qatars Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim said 18 countries agreed to the suspension,which was scheduled to take effect on Wednesday in a significant escalation of international pressure on President Bashar Assads government. Syria,Lebanon and Yemen voted against it,and Iraq abstained.
The Arab League will also consider introducing political and economic sanctions against Syria. Syria is a dear country for all of us and it pains us to make this decision, bin Jassim said. We hope there will be a brave move from Syria to stop the violence and begin a real dialogue toward real reform.
The decision comes as November shapes up to be the bloodiest month yet in Syrias 8-month-old uprising,with more than 250 civilians killed so far,most as part of a siege of the rebellious city of Homs,according to activist groups.
Bin Jassim suggested that Arab League members withdraw their ambassadors from Damascus but left that up to the individual countries.
The 22-member league will monitor the situation and revisit the decision in a meeting Wednesday in the Moroccan capital Rabat,bin Jassim said,a move that appeared to give Assad time to prevent the action from being implemented.
Syrias envoy to the Arab League,Youssef Ahmed,called the decision illegal and contrary to the leagues internal charter,according to the state-run news agency SANA. Ahmed was quoted as saying that Syria remains committed to its pledges to the Arab League and said Damascus is calling on the armed opposition abroad to lay down arms,surrender,stop the violence and accept a national dialogue.
The vote was a strong message from the Cairo-based organisation and showed growing impatience as violence has continued unabated since Syria agreed on November 2 to an Arab-brokered peace deal that called for Syria to halt attacks against protesters,pull tanks and armoured vehicles out of cities,release political prisoners and allow journalists and rights groups into the country.
Arab nations are also eager to avoid seeing another Arab leader toppled violently and dragged through the streets,as happened to Muammar Gaddafi last month. It was an Arab League decision that had paved the way for the UN-mandated no-fly zone and NATO airstrikes that eventually brought down Gaddafi.