x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Arab League approves sanctions on Syria

Sanctions will come in force today, as 19 members of the League's 22 nations approve sanctions to cut off transactions to the Syrian Central Bank.

CAIRO // The Arab League has approved sanctions against Syria to pressure the regime to end its deadly eight-month crackdown on dissent.

Damascus slammed the move as a betrayal of Arab solidarity.

At a press conference in Cairo, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr Al Thani, the Qatar foreign minister, said 19 of the League's 22 member nations approved the sanctions, including cutting off transactions with the Syrian Central Bank and halting Arab government funding for projects in Syria, with the exception of foodstuffs.

Sheikh Hamad said that the sanctions will be enforced today.

Iraq had abstained from the vote, and refused to implement it, while Lebanon "disassociated itself" from the decision.

The decision also called on Arab central banks to monitor transfers to Syria, except remittances from Syrians abroad to their families.

The League's step was unprecedented against an Arab nation.

Syria is facing mounting international pressure to end its violent suppression of protests against Bashar Al Assad, the president, which the United Nations says has killed more than 3,500 people since March.

Nabil Elaraby, the Arab League Secretary General, said the bloc will reconsider the sanctions if Syria carries out an Arab-brokered peace plan that includes sending observers to the country and pulling tanks from the streets.

“We call on Syria to quickly approve the Arab initiative,” he said.

The state-owned Al Thawra newspaper said the Arab League is calling for “economic and commercial sanctions targeting the Syrian people”. It said the measure is “unprecedented and contradicts the rules of Arab cooperation.”

Since the revolt began, the regime has blamed armed gangs acting out a foreign conspiracy for the bloodshed.

It is not clear whether Arab League sanctions will succeed in pressuring the Syrian regime into ending the violence that has killed dozens of Syrians, week after week. Many fear the violence is pushing the country towards civil war.

Until recently, most of the bloodshed was caused by security forces firing on mainly peaceful protests. Lately, there have been growing reports of army defectors and armed civilians fighting Mr Assad’s forces – a development that some say plays into the regime’s hands by giving government troops a pretext to crack down with overwhelming force.

Today, activists reported fierce clashes in the flashpoint city of Homs, in central Syria, pitting soldiers against army defectors.

The death toll from violence in Homs and elsewhere across the country was mounting. The Local Coordinating Committees, a coalition of Syrian activist groups, put the toll at 26, but the figure was impossible to confirm.