Arab League to Press Syrian FM to End Crackdown

Posted October 30th, 2011 at 11:30 am (UTC-5)
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Arab League representatives are scheduled to meet Sunday with Syria's foreign minister to demand an end to killings of civilians during the government's crackdown on an opposition uprising.

The Arab League ministerial delegation was due to hold talks with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem in the Qatari capital, Doha. The 22-member Arab bloc sharpened its criticism of Syria after rights activists said Syrian security forces shot and killed dozens of anti-government protesters on Friday.

Many of the protesters were calling on the West to impose a no-fly zone over Syria to protect them from government attacks. NATO airstrikes helped a Libyan uprising topple Moammar Gadhafi earlier this year, but the alliance has shown little appetite for a similar mission in Syria.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told a British newspaper that any Western intervention in Syria will cause an “earthquake” and turn his country into what he called “another Afghanistan.” In the interview with the Sunday Telegraph, he said any plan to “divide Syria” will divide the whole region.

Rights activists say at least 90 people were killed in uprising-related violence in Syria on Friday and Saturday, marking one of the bloodiest periods in the country since the anti-Assad rebellion began in March.

The activists say the dead include 45 civilians and 47 security personnel killed in fighting with army deserters in the provinces of Homs and Idlib. One army defector also was killed. There was no independent confirmation of the casualties because Syria bars most international journalists from operating in the country.

In a separate interview with Russian state television Sunday, President Assad said Syria has been “relying” on Russian diplomatic support to withstand Western and Arab criticism of the crackdown.

Western nations have placed economic sanctions on Syria to pressure it to stop using force against protesters. But Russia vetoed a European-led effort to secure U.N. Security Council approval for similar sanctions against Damascus.