Sunday, November 27, 2011

DTN News - SYRIA UNREST: Arab League Punishes Syria Over Violent Crackdown

DTN News - SYRIA UNREST: Arab League Punishes Syria Over Violent Crackdown
(NSI News Source Info) TORONTO, Canada / CAIRO, Egypt - November 27, 2011: The Arab League approved tough economic sanctions against Syria on Sunday to press it to end its violent crackdown against antigovernment protesters, an unprecedented step against an Arab country.
The sanctions — including a travel ban against Syrian officials and politicians, a halt to dealings with the Syrian Central Bank and the end of Arab-financed projects in the country — will be another blow to the Syrian economy, which is suffering from sanctions imposed by the European Union and the United States.
The Arab League, meeting outside Cairo, approved the measures after Syria said it would not admit Arab civilian and military observers to oversee a peace agreement intended to end the bloodshed.
“The position of the people, and the Arab position, is that we must end this situation urgently,” the Qatari foreign minister, Hamad bin Jassem, said after announcing the sanctions, which were supported by 19 of the league’s 22 countries. “It has been almost a year that the Syrian people have been killed.”
Syria had accepted the peace agreement on Nov. 2, promising to end a military crackdown that, according to the United Nations, has killed more than 3,500 people since March. But the violence has continued unabated, and the monitors were proposed as a last-ditch effort to save the plan and give Syria another opportunity to comply.
Mr. Jassem said that the sanctions would take effect immediately and that the resolution called for the United Nations Security Council to adopt similar measures.
The Syrian government and its supporters denounced the sanctions as an attempt by outsiders to break up the country.
“In the war against Syria, the economic will take the place of the limited possibility of military intervention,” said a Lebanese analyst who is close to Syria, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The sanctions, he said, aim “to deconstruct Syria, not to reform Syria.”
In a letter to the league on Saturday, Syria’s foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, accused the organization of seeking to turn the Syrian crisis into an international one and “to interfere in Syria’s internal affairs.”
Analysts said they expected the impact of the sanctions to be limited, in large part because Syria’s largest trading partners will not participate.
Economists estimate that about 50 percent of Syrian trade is with the Arab world, but the largest chunk of that is with its immediate neighbors, including Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan.
Iraq abstained and Lebanon “disassociated” itself from the vote, Mr. Jassem said. Both countries said they would not enforce the sanctions, and Jordan has issued mixed signals.
Hoshar Zubairy, the Iraqi foreign minister, was quoted in local news media reports as saying that implementing the sanctions was a “sovereign” decision left up to each country. Given the volume of trade and the estimated two million Iraqi refugees that have been accepted by Syria, Baghdad would not take part, he said.
Analysts noted that Iraq has increasingly aligned its regional policies with Iran, but Mr. Zubairy denied that Iran had direct sway over Baghdad.
Iran and Russia are also expected to provide aid to Syria to make up for lost revenues.
Still, existing sanctions have already taken a toll. Syria’s two most vital industries, tourism and oil, have ground to a halt in recent months.
Arab League finance ministers, who drafted the sanctions on Saturday, had also proposed suspending commercial flights to Syria from Arab countries. That measure was not approved by the foreign ministers on Sunday and was still being studied by the group, officials said.
The immediate impact of the sanctions is likely to be at least as much psychological as economic. Syria has long portrayed itself as the “beating heart of Arabism,” and it is the one country where anyone with a passport from an Arab nation could enter without a visa.
“No trade with the Arabs would hurt more than any sanctions thus far,” said an Arab expert with ties to Damascus who asked not to be identified. “But it is really all part of the battle for legitimacy.”
In Syria, people worried that the sanctions would mostly hurt the poor and the middle class, while the interests of the business class and the elite would remain protected.
“I think it is time the world realized that economic sanctions are not affecting anyone but the Syrian people,” said a 23-year-old Damascus resident who did not want to be identified for fear of reprisal. “Those who couldn’t afford buying bread now can’t afford even smelling bread.”
Others hoped that the sanctions would push the business class and the elite in Syria’s two biggest cities, Damascus and Aleppo, to participate in the opposition against the government of President Bashar al-Assad. The upper class has so far remained largely quiet since the uprising began in March.
Violence in Syria continued throughout the weekend, and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition rights group that operates in exile, reported clashes between army defectors and security forces loyal to the government in the northwest and central parts of the country. At least 10 people were killed Sunday, the group reported.
The group said that at least 27 civilians had been killed Saturday, most of them in the central city of Homs, where the army and defectors have regularly clashed. In addition, 15 army defectors and 12 soldiers and security personnel were killed during an attack on a military vehicle in northwestern Syria, the group said.
Mr. Jassem, the Qatari foreign minister, said the goal of the sanctions was to stop such killings, without foreign military intervention.
“But if the international community does not take us seriously in this,” he said, “then I cannot guarantee that there will be no foreign interference."
Liam Stack contributed reporting from Cairo.
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