Arab League to Vote on Sanctions Against Syria

Posted November 27th, 2011 at 6:00 am (UTC-5)
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Arab League foreign ministers are meeting in Cairo Sunday to decide whether to impose sanctions on Syria in response to the Syrian government's deadly crackdown on an opposition uprising.

The top diplomats of the 22-member league are considering a series of sanctions recommended Saturday by the regional bloc's finance ministers. The proposals include freezing the assets of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his aides, barring them from visiting Arab League members, stopping commercial flights to Syria and suspending cooperation with the Syrian central bank.

Approval of such measures would be a blow for Syria, which has long prided itself as a bastion of Arab nationalism. Arab League sanctions also would add to the pressure on the Syrian economy from eight-months of anti-government unrest and U.S. and European Union sanctions on exports of Syrian oil and other products.

Arab officials proposed the sanctions after Syria refused to accept a Friday deadline they set to allow league observers into the country to monitor the government's response to the uprising. Syria instead asked the league for clarifications of the observers' mission.

Syrian rights activists say security forces killed at least 27 civilians in crackdowns on protest hubs on Saturday, with most of the fatalities in the central province of Homs. Syrian state news agency SANA also says 25 security personnel were buried Saturday after being killed by what it calls “armed terrorists” in the Damascus countryside and the regions of Homs and Hama.

There was no independent confirmation of the casualties because Syria bars most foreign journalists from operating in the country.

Syrian army defectors known as the Free Syrian Army have carried out increasingly deadly attacks on government forces in recent weeks, militarizing what had previously been a largely peaceful movement calling for an end to President Assad's 11-year autocratic rule.

Iraq and Lebanon have expressed reservations about punishing Syria for the crackdown. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari expressed concern Saturday about the fate of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees in Syria and the trade relationship between the two neighbors. It is not clear how effective Arab League sanctions against Syria would be if members such as Iraq refuse to implement them.

The United Nations says more than 3,500 people have been killed since March in connection with the uprising.