Syria Calls for Urgent Arab Meeting

Posted November 13th, 2011 at 9:25 pm (UTC-5)
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Syria's embattled government on Sunday called for an emergency Arab summit in an attempt to prevent its suspension from the Arab League because of its violent crackdown against anti-government protesters.

On Saturday, the 22-member body voted to suspend Syria beginning Wednesday if Damascus continues to ignore the bloc's call to engage in dialogue with the opposition.

The League's decision prompted an outpouring of anger among President Bashar al-Assad's supporters who attacked the embassies of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey late Saturday. Turkey is not a member of the Arab League, but has criticized the crackdown in neighboring Syria.

Saudi Arabia condemned the assault on its embassy in Damascus and said it holds Syrian authorities responsible for the security of all Saudi interests in the country. A crowd also broke through the gates at Qatar's embassy, removing the country's flag and replacing it with a Syrian one.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry summoned Syria's charge d'affaires on Sunday and ordered the evacuation of its non-essential personnel from Syria.

Meanwhile, violence continued Sunday, with activists reporting at least nine people killed in shootings by security forces across the country. The majority of the deaths reportedly occurred in the restive central city of Hama.

Syria agreed to the Arab League plan for dialogue on November 2 but more than 150 people have been killed since then. The violence has included attacks by the security forces on anti-Assad protesters and fighting between Syria's military and army defectors.

The Arab League vote drew praise from the United Nations, the United States and Britain. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the move “strong and courageous,” and said the world body is “ready to provide the relevant support when requested.”

U.S. President Barack Obama said the decision increases the diplomatic isolation of a government that has “flagrantly failed to keep its commitments” and “systematically violated human rights and repressed peaceful protests.”

Syria's ambassador to the League, Youssef Ahmed, rejected the vote as illegal and contrary to the organization's charter. He said the Syrian government remains committed to fulfilling the Arab League peace plan.

The U.N. human rights agency says at least 3,500 people have been killed in Syria in connection with anti-Assad protests since March. Syria blames much of the violence on foreign-backed “terrorists and thugs.”