x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Syria says Arab League sanctions are a declaration of 'economic war'

Comments came as UN-appointed investigators accused Syrian forces of crimes against humanity, while rights groups say seven more civilians were killed across the country.

A giant portrait of the Syrian president, Bashar Al Assad, is carried by thousands of demonstrators in Damascus yesterday. The rally was to protest against the Arab League’s decision to impose crippling sanctions on Mr Al Assad’s regime.
A giant portrait of the Syrian president, Bashar Al Assad, is carried by thousands of demonstrators in Damascus yesterday. The rally was to protest against the Arab League’s decision to impose crippling sanctions on Mr Al Assad’s regime.

DAMASCUS // Syria yesterday lashed out at the Arab League for ignoring "terrorists" in the country when it imposed crippling sanctions.

Damascus said the move marked a declaration of "economic war".

The comments came as UN-appointed investigators accused Syrian forces of crimes against humanity, while rights groups said seven more civilians were killed across the country yesterday.

"Arab sanctions are a declaration of economic war on Syria," said the foreign minister, Walid Muallem.

During his news conference, video footage was shown of what was described as a "mass grave of security force martyrs" discovered by the Syrian authorities.

"I apologise for these horrific images but at the same time I offer them to the Arab League ministerial committee members who still continue to refuse the presence of these armed groups," said Mr Muallem.

"The Arabs don't want to admit the presence in Syria of groups of armed terrorists who are committing these crimes, abductions and attacks on public places," he added, after tens of thousands of regime supporters rallied against the pan-Arab bloc.

UN-appointed investigators said yesterday that Syria's military and security forces have committed crimes against humanity.

Forces have murdered, raped and tortured demonstrators since the protests erupted in March, according to evidence gathered by the Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria, which interviewed 223 victims and witnesses.

"The commission is gravely concerned that crimes against humanity have been committed in different locations in the Syrian Arab Republic during the period under review," it said in its report released in Geneva.

Also yesterday, a Britain-based rights group reported that security forces and Shabiha militiamen loyal to the president, Bashar Al Assad, killed seven more civilians.

Mr Muallem said his government had opened all avenues in talks with the Arab League to end the bloodshed but that "they have closed all these windows" of opportunity.

He called for dialogue to bring about national reconciliation, saying that Syria was ready to accept Russia, its traditional ally, as a mediator to end the crisis.

The Arab League voted on Sunday to slap sweeping sanctions against the regime of Mr Al Assad over its crackdown on anti-regime protests - the first time the bloc has enforced punitive measures of such magnitude on one of its members.

The sanctions include an immediate ban on transactions with the Syrian government and central bank and a freeze on Syrian government assets in Arab countries.

They also bar Syrian officials from visiting any Arab country and call for a suspension of all flights to Arab states to be implemented on a date to be fixed at a meeting next week.

Mr Al Assad's regime has already been subjected to a raft of western sanctions, led by the US and European Union.

Diplomats in Brussels said on Monday that the EU was set to tighten its measures even further, targeting Syria's oil and financial sectors to deprive the regime of more sources of funding.

But Mr Muallem dismissed the negative effect of the sanctions and said Syria would weather the storm thanks to countermeasures it had already taken.

"I reassure you that we have withdrawn 95 or 96 per cent of Syrian assets [from Arab countries]," Mr Muallem said. "We must protect the interests of our people."