11/28/2011, 00.00
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Arab League imposes sanctions to stop the killing of civilians in Syria

The unprecedented decision freezes all economic relations between Syria and League members. Meanwhile, clashes continue: 31 civilians and 12 members of the security force killed yesterday. The Syrian regime organises demonstrations in its favour. Russia announces it will send a flotilla of warships next spring to the Syrian port of Tartus.
Beirut (AsiaNews) – Arab foreign ministers agreed on Sunday to a list of sweeping sanctions against the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad. They include a halt to any transactions with the Syrian government and central bank, the suspension of flights to and from Syria, a travel ban on Syrian officials from visiting any Arab country and freeze on economic ties. Nineteen Arab League members voted in favour of sanctions, one (Iraq) abstained and Lebanon voted against. Syria itself is suspended.

The decision came as the death toll rose in what increasingly is taking on the features of a civil war. Thirty-one civilians died yesterday along with 12 members of the security forces.

The Arab League’s decision, the first of its kind for the pan-Arab organisation, could have major consequences for the Syrian regime since according to Syria's bureau of statistics, 52.5 per cent of all Syrian exports went to Arab countries in 2009 while 16.4 per cent of imports came from Arab nations.

Sanctions, according to Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, are aimed at convincing Damascus to stop the killing of civilians and signing the agreement with the League to find a peaceful solution to the crisis and prevent any foreign intervention. Nabil Elaraby, the Arab League secretary-general, said the sanctions would be reconsidered if Syria met those demands.

Syrian authorities have a different take on the decision. Foreign Minister Walid Muallem accused the organisation of seeking to "internationalise" the crisis in his country.

Syrian Economy Minister Mohammed Nidal al-Shaar said sanctions would be "very unfortunate because the damage will be to all sides."

For Syria’s state news agency SANA, “Tens of thousands of Syrians on Sunday flocked to the squares of Damascus, Tartous, Lattakia and Hasaka to condemn the decisions of the Ministerial Council of the Arab League on imposing economic and financial sanctions on Syria. The participants stressed their support to the national independent stances and the comprehensive reform program under the leadership of President Bashar al-Assad.”

Assad might also take some solace in a recent report by Izvestia that Russia will send a flotilla of warships led by the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier to its naval base in the Syrian port of Tartus Syria for a port call in spring 2012.

By contrast, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé said that the days of the Assad regime were "numbered".

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu also said his government would harmonise measures with those of the Arab League,

Jordan’s Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said that about a hundred Syrian military and police deserters had taken refuge in the kingdom. (PD)
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