Syria snubs its nose at Arab League sanctions
November 29, 2011
"You will see Arab brethren who are disparaging us today flock back to Damascus repentantly once the crisis ends" ... Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Photo: AP
CAIRO: Syrian officials have rejected the ''unprecedented'' imposition of sweeping sanctions by the Arab League designed to cripple the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, who has defied pressure to halt a bloody crackdown on protests.
The 22-member Arab League agreed on Sunday to ban Syrian officials from visiting any Arab country, to freeze government assets and halt any transactions with the Syrian government and central bank.
The sanctions, announced by the Qatari Prime Minister, Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, after a meeting in Cairo on Sunday, mark the first time the league has taken such economic measures against another country in the region.
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''We hope that [the Syrian regime] puts an end to the massacres so that this resolution [authorising sanctions] is not put into force,'' said Sheikh Hamad, adding that ''the signs are not positive''. He also called for ''an end to the massacres'' and for the freeing of prisoners and the withdrawal of tanks from Syrian cities.
In response, Dr Assad has become if anything more defiant. Syrian media over the weekend highlighted an aggressive, almost triumphalist speech the once modestly spoken Dr Assad gave to university students who visited him at the ''People's Palace''.
''You will see Arab brethren who are disparaging us today flock back to Damascus repentantly once the crisis ends,'' Dr Assad said.
In a swipe at Turkey, once an ally, and a further reference to Syria's claims to be a victim of imperialist conspiracies, he added: ''The dream of the Ottoman Empire remains vivid in some minds. Although they know it is only a pipedream, they try to exploit political parties raising religious slogans to boost their influence in the Arab world.''
The Turkish Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said his government would harmonise 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.
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.
Arab League finance ministers, who drafted the sanctions on Saturday, had also proposed the suspension of commercial flights to Syria from Arab countries. That measure was not approved by the foreign ministers on Sunday and was still being studied by the group, officials said.
Economists estimate that about half of Syrian trade is with the Arab world, but the largest chunk of that is with its immediate neighbours, including Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan. 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 3500 people.
Agence France-Presse; The New York Times; Telegraph, London
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