x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Arab League gives Bashar Al Assad more time to comply

The Arab League extends the deadline for Syria to sign a deal letting in observers or face sanctions that include the freezing of government assets and a ban on flights to and from the country.

CAIRO // The Arab League extended until today a deadline for Syria to sign a deal letting in observers or face sanctions that include the freezing of government assets and a ban on flights to and from the country.

Outlawing dealings with the Syrian Central Bank was among measures that would be considered by the league's economic and social council, which will convene on Saturday should Syria fail to comply, according to a statement issued yesterday.

"We call on the Syrian government to sign tomorrow," said Nabil Elaraby, the Arab League secretary general.

The Arab initiative also called on Bashar Al Assad's government to end an eight-month crackdown on protesters. The league has rejected Syrian requests to negotiate the terms of the deal, which was agreed on November 2. The original deadline was November 19.

Last week, the league suspended Syria for its handling of the protests. It was the organisation's boldest action since it condemned Muammar Qaddafi's regime, which paved the way for the United Nations resolution in March authorising a Nato bombing campaign.

The UN has been paralysed over Syria since October 4, when Russia and China delivered the first double veto since 2008 to block a Security Council resolution calling for Mr Al Assad to end the violence. The United States and the European Union have already imposed their own sanctions on Syria.

US sanctions target top officials, Syria's largest mobile phone operator, Syriatel, and the Commercial Bank of Syria. The EU has blacklisted 74 people including senior military and intelligence officials .

Turkey, a neighbour and key trade partner, has said it would "strongly support" the Arab League decision and yesterday Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, followed King Abdullah of Jordan in saying Mr Al Assad should step down.

Amid the diplomatic efforts, the violence continued, with intense clashes reported between troops and army defectors near the town of Rastan in the province of Homs.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees said 15 defectors were either killed or wounded in the clashes.

"Protection of civilians in Syria is an increasingly urgent and important aspect of responding to the events in country," Maja Kocijancic, an EU spokeswoman, said in a statement.

But the 27-nation Arab League bloc stopped short of endorsing the French foreign minister Alain Juppe, who had called for EU-backed humanitarian corridors to allow aid groups a way in. Mr Juppe called the situation in Syria "no longer tenable" and accused Assad's regime of "repression of a savagery we have not seen in a long time".