Arab League Gives Syria 3 Days to Halt Bloodshed

Posted November 16th, 2011 at 6:20 pm (UTC-5)
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Foreign ministers from the Arab League have given Syria's government three days to end bloodshed against anti-government protesters and allow in teams of observers to monitor the compliance.

The ministers announced their decision in a statement after an emergency meeting in the Moroccan capital, Rabat, Wednesday. However, they did not say what would happen if Damascus failed to comply.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu also participated in the meeting, and told the gathering the Syrian government “will pay a high price.” Syria boycotted the talks, just days after the league voted to suspend Syria's membership.

The meeting was overshadowed by reports of escalating violence in Syria, fueling fears of a looming civil war. Activists said the Free Syrian Army, made up of defectors from government security forces, staged a high profile attack on a Syrian military base on the outskirts of Damascus early Wednesday. Syrian state media, which previously highlighted attacks on security personnel, made no mention of the attack.

A Germany-based spokesman for Syria's Local Coordination Committees told VOA the Free Syrian Army announced a temporary military council, led by defecting colonel Riad al-Asaad, whose goal is to weaken Syrian security forces.

In Washington, the U.S. State Department blamed the apparent emergence of an armed opposition in Syria on government brutality. Deputy spokesman Mark Toner said that although the U.S. does not condone violence by either side, incidents like Wednesday's attack on a Syrian military base are understandable, given the unrelenting crackdown by the government.

In other violence Wednesday, Morocco's embassy in Damascus came under attack by protesters just as Arab ministers were meeting in Rabat, while activists said violence across Syria killed at least 11 people.

There was no independent confirmation of the attacks or of the casualties.

Also Wednesday, a group of men claiming to be Syrian army defectors released a video statement declaring their desertion from the pro-Assad military.

In Europe, France announced it was recalling its ambassador to Syria and closing its consular offices amid new violence. France's foreign minister says the country is working with the Arab League at the U.N. General Assembly on a new draft resolution on Syria.

Syrian state television showed thousands of Assad supporters rallying in the port of Latakia Wednesday, holding up his picture and denouncing the Arab League.

Syria is only the third nation in the Arab League's history to be suspended — Egypt in 1979 for its overtures to Israel, and Libya earlier this year. Tripoli's membership was restored after the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi.

The United Nations says at least 3,500 people have been killed in connection with the Syrian revolt since March. Syria blames much of the violence on foreign-backed terrorists and religious extremists.