The Arab League yesterday awaited Syria’s response to a deadline to allow in observers to monitor the country’s unrest, a day after the pan-Arab body slapped sanctions on senior Syrian officials.
The new deadline came as 25 people were reported killed on Saturday across Syria, most of them in a battle between troops and a growing force of army defectors who have joined the movement to oust the autocratic president, and after the UN Human Rights Council urged tougher action against Damascus, condemning its “gross violation” of human rights.
An Arab League ministerial committee slapped 19 top officials with a ban on travel to Arab states in addition to setting the deadline to accept observers.
“During the meeting we contacted Damascus ... and we asked them to come tomorrow [yesterday, to Doha] to sign” the protocol on sending observers, Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani said, announcing the deadline.
“We are waiting for a reply,” he added. “As Arabs we fear that if the situation continues, things will get out of Arab control.”
Sheikh Hamad was speaking after a meeting to discuss Arab League sanctions against Damascus over its bloody crackdown on more than eight months of anti-regime protests.
On the list of 19 Syrian officials banned from travel to Arab states and whose assets are being frozen by those countries are Syrian President Bashir al-Assad’s brother Maher; his cousin, telecoms magnate Rami Makhluf; and military and intelligence figures.
Saturday’s meeting also decided to cut by half all Arab flights to and from Syria effective from Dec. 15, including those of the national carrier, Syrian Air, a statement said.
On Nov. 27, the Arab League approved sweeping sanctions against Assad’s government over the crackdown — the first time that the bloc has enforced punitive measures of such magnitude on a member.
The measures included an immediate ban on transactions with Damascus and its central bank and a freeze on Syrian government assets in Arab countries.
The vote on sanctions came after Damascus defied an earlier ultimatum to accept observers under an Arab League peace plan.
On the ground, 11 civilians were among 23 people killed in Syria on Saturday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Most of the deaths occured in the northwestern province of Idlib, a focal point of anti-regime protests raging since March.
The unprecedented movement against Assad’s regime has been spearheaded by peaceful demonstrators, but in recent months army deserters have formed a rebel Free Syrian Army, which has inflicted growing losses on regular forces.
The UN says that more than 4,000 people have been killed in the crackdown and tens of thousands arrested. At least 12,400 people are also reported to have fled abroad.
In Geneva on Friday, an emergency meeting of the Human Rights Council passed a resolution “strongly condemning the continued widespread, systematic and gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms by the Syrian authorities.”
Damascus rejected the resolution as “unjust” and said it was “prepared in advance by parties hostile to Syria.”
The violence in Syria also topped talks on Friday between US Vice President Joe Biden and Turkish President Abdullah Gul in Ankara.
“Assad and his regime are the source of instability in Syria now and pose the greatest danger to fanning flames of sectarian conflict not only in Syria, but beyond,” Biden told Gul, a US official said.