Arab League agrees Syria fiscal, travel sanctions

The seat of the Foreign Minister of Syria is seen empty during a meeting for
Arab foreign ministers in Cairo, to discuss the situation in Syria Nov. 24, 2011.

CAIRO (AFP) — Arab foreign ministers agreed a list of sweeping sanctions Sunday designed to cripple the Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad who has defied pressure to halt a bloody crackdown on protests.

The 22-member Arab League agreed to ban Syrian officials from visiting any Arab country, to freeze government assets, suspend flights and halt any transactions with the Syrian government and central bank.

The sanctions, announced by Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani after a meeting in Cairo, are the first time the organization has taken such economic measures against another country in the region.

“We hope that (the Syrian regime) puts an end to the massacres so that this resolution (authorizing sanctions) is not put into force,” said Sheikh Hamad, but he added that “the signs are not positive.”

He also called for “an end to the massacres, the freeing of prisoners and the withdrawal of tanks” from Syrian cities.

Long seen as a weak institution dominated by the region’s autocrats, the Arab League has taken on an increasingly activist role during the pro-democracy Arab Spring demonstrations of the past 12 months.

Nineteen of the Arab League’s 22 members voted for the sanctions, but Iraq abstained and said it would refuse to implement them, while Lebanon “disassociated itself,” Sheikh Hamad said.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, whose country has close economic ties with Syria and a large refugee community in its western neighbour, had said beforehand that it was “not possible” to impose sanctions on Assad’s regime.

Even without Iraq’s participation, the impact is expected to be crippling on a country already facing a raft of EU and US sanctions, and which depends on its Arab neighbors for half of its exports and a quarter of its imports.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has also said his government will harmonize measures with those of the Arab League, saying that Ankara’s former ally had missed its “last chance” by failing to heed the Arab ultimatum.

Damascus has defied an ultimatum to accept observers under an Arab League peace plan and put an end to the eight-month crackdown which the United Nations says has killed more than 3,500 people.

Syrian Economy Minister Mohammed Nidal al-Shaar told AFP before the decision that sanctions would be “very unfortunate because the damage will be to all sides.”

In a letter to the Arab League on Saturday, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem accused the organization of seeking to “internationalize” the crisis in his country.

The violence showed no sign of abating, however, with Syrian security forces accused of killing at least 11 civilians on Sunday, six of them in the flashpoint region of Homs that has been under siege for several weeks.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported fresh violence in the town of Qusayr, in Idlib province, the oil hub city of Deir Ezzor and near the capital Damascus.

At least 23 civilians and 12 members of the security forces were killed in clashes across the country on Saturday, the rights group said.

These included 16 civilians, among them two children aged nine and 10, shot dead by security forces — in Homs and Qusayr in central Syria and another in Deir Ezzor in the east, the group added.

Bahrain and Qatar on Sunday called on their citizens to leave Syria, after the United Arab Emirates also advised its citizens earlier in the week to stay away.

Iraq also abstained from a vote earlier this month that saw the Arab League decide to suspend Syria’s membership and threaten sanctions, while Lebanon joined Yemen and Syria itself in opposing the resolution.

 ( / 27.11.2011)

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