Syria Faces Isolation as Regional FMs Meet in Rabat

Posted November 16th, 2011 at 3:35 am (UTC-5)
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Syria is facing increased regional isolation as foreign ministers from Arab nations and Turkey meet in the Moroccan capital to consider additional sanctions against Damascus for refusing to end a crackdown on eight months of opposition protests.

The top diplomats of the 22-member Arab League planned to meet in Rabat Wednesday on the sidelines of an Arab-Turkish cooperation forum also attended by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

The Arab League voted Saturday to suspend Syria's membership, accusing Damascus of failing to implement a deal with the regional bloc to stop the violent crackdown on dissent. The suspension was due to take effect Wednesday.

Syria said it would boycott the league's Rabat meeting, in which foreign ministers were expected to discuss further sanctions such as withdrawing ambassadors from Damascus. U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner urged the league to send Syrian President Bashar al-Assad a message that he needs to allow a democratic transition to take place and end violence against his own people.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday the Syrian president risks being remembered in history as a leader who “feeds on blood.” Turkey has strongly criticized the Syrian crackdown and a series of assaults on Turkish missions in the country. Assad supporters tried to break into the missions Saturday, angered by Turkish support for the Arab League's vote to suspend Syria.

Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said Tuesday that Ankara has stopped a project with Syria for joint oil exploration in the country. He also said Turkey may have to review its supply of electricity to Syria if its southern neighbor does not change course. A Turkish official told the Associated Press that Ankara supplies about 10 percent of Syria's annual electricity consumption.

In the latest violence, Syrian opposition activists say army defectors attacked a military intelligence complex in the Damascus suburb of Harasta with rockets and grenades, triggering a battle between the two sides early Wednesday. Some casualties were reported. There was no independent confirmation of the attack, which appeared to show deserters of the Free Syrian Army increasingly going on the offensive.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says 12 civilians were killed or found dead Tuesday in the latest crackdown by government forces on protest hubs around the country. It says eight people were killed by gunfire, while the bodies of four people arrested in recent days were handed to relatives.

Syrian state television reported Tuesday the government had released at least 1,100 people detained during the unrest, in what appeared to be an attempt to appease Arab League demands.

Opposition activists said more than 80 people were killed in uprising-related violence on Monday, making it one of the deadliest days of the eight-month uprising. They said the dead included soldiers, army deserters and civilians.

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.