Arab League to draw up new sanctions against Syria

AFP , Sunday 27 Nov 2011

During preparatory meeting in Cairo, the Arab League proposes a new list of sanctions against Syria that includes cutting commercial ties with the rogue state

Arab Ministerial meeting on Syria (Reuters)

Arab finance ministers on Saturday drew up a list of sanctions against Syria to punish President Bashar Al-Assad's regime for defying an ultimatum to allow in observers and ending a deadly crackdown.

The recommendation, which includes a ban on Syrian officials visiting any Arab country and the freezing of government assets, must now be approved by two-thirds of Arab foreign ministers meeting in the Egyptian capital on Sunday.

The list of punitive measures also included the suspension of flights and a halt to any transactions with the Syrian government and its central bank.

Arab states are also called to freeze any investments for projects in Syria.

In a letter to the Arab League, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem accused the 22-member organisation of seeking to "internationalise" the crisis in his country.

Muallem also criticised the group for saying on Thursday that it would ask the United Nations to contribute to the proposed observer mission, calling it an invitation "for foreign intervention instead of a call to avoid one."

The pan-Arab bloc has previously shied away from such a move.

The violence showed no sign of abating on Saturday with army deserters killing eight soldiers and members of the security forces and wounding 40 more in Idlib in northwest Syria, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Elsewhere, 16 civilians, including two children aged nine and 10, were shot dead by security forces -- 15 in Homs and Qussayr in central Syria and another in Deir Ezzor in the east, the Observatory said.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said he would join Sunday's meeting to harmonise his government's 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.

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

The Arab League had set a Friday deadline for Damascus to agree to the details of the observers' mission, part of a reform deal Syria had previously said it accepted.

Davutoglu, whose government has expressed outrage at the mounting bloodshed in its southern neighbour, said Syria's refusal to allow in observers could only mean it had something to hide.

"Syria was expected to say yes to the observers... unless there is a reality it hides about the situation in Syrian cities," Davutoglu said after the deadline expired.

"As it said no, it increased... the concerns on the humanitarian situation," he said, in the wake of UN estimates that the crackdown has cost more than 3,500 lives since March.

Ankara already has some measures in hand against Damascus, including a suspension of joint oil exploration and a threat to halt power exports.

"We are going to harmonise them with those prepared by the Arab League," Turkey's Anatolia news agency quoted Davutoglu as saying.

But Iraq, which abstained when the Arab League voted earlier this month to suspend Syria and threaten sanctions, expressed its strong reservations about the proposed package.

"It is not possible, in the opinion of Iraq, to impose economic sanctions on Syria," Zebari told reporters in the Iraqi shrine city of Najaf.

It was not immediately clear if he meant Baghdad would refuse to enforce any sanctions agreed by the Arab League.

Syria depends on its Arab neighbours for half of its exports and a quarter of its imports.

Were the 22-nation bloc to impose serious economic sanctions, the impact would be crippling for a country already facing a raft of punitive measures from the European Union and the United States.

"If that is to happen, it will be very unfortunate because the damage will be to all sides," Syrian Economy Minister Mohammed Nidal al-Shaar told AFP in an exclusive interview.

But "we don't expect all Arab countries to yield or participate in sanctions," he added. "In fact, we are almost certain that some Arab countries will not participate."

Lebanon, which has a government dominated by Damascus ally Hezbollah, has already made clear it will not enforce any economic sanctions against its larger neighbour.

In this month's Arab League vote, Lebanon joined Yemen and Syria itself in voting against the threat of sanctions.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, meanwhile, said he was "extremely concerned" about the escalating crisis and was ready to help the Arab League, according to UN spokesman Martin Nesirky.

Last month, European governments put a draft resolution to the UN Security Council that would have threatened "targeted measures" against Damascus, but it was vetoed by Beijing and Moscow.

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