Arabs urge protection of Syrians

Thu, Nov 17, 2011, 00:00

ARAB LEAGUE foreign ministers meeting in Rabat yesterday postponed the projected suspension of Syria and decided to deploy 500 observers to oversee implementation of the organisation’s peace plan.

Last Saturday, the league gave Syria four days to halt violence against protesters, withdraw troops from urban areas and release prisoners. While Syrian forces have, reportedly, pulled back from some cities and towns and 1,180 prisoners have been released, the league does not deem these gestures full implementation of the deal, signed by Syria on November 2nd.

The Rabat gathering convened only hours after army deserters mounted a rocket and machine gun attack on an airforce intelligence complex located in Harasta, north of Damascus.

The operation, the most daring so far by defectors, was claimed by the “Free Syrian Army” which also said it had targeted military check points in satellite suburbs of the capital.

Pro-government demonstrators braved rain and a chill wind to march through the capital, chanting against the league. Traffic was diverted around Arab embassies where police and troops stood guard.

Pro-government demonstrations were also held in the coastal cities of Latakia and Tartous and in the Aleppo area.

France announced it was recalling its ambassador, following the example of Germany. Syria decided not to attend the Rabat meeting although the ruling Baath Party has reaffirmed the country’s commitment to the league.

Damascus dubbed its decision to suspend Syria’s participation a dangerous precedent that undermined Arab joint action and security. The Baath accused the US of infiltrating the league and turning it into an institution harmful to “Arabism”, pan-Arab unity.

The league is divided over the crisis in Syria, although governments that take a hard line toward Syria are in the majority.

Algeria and Lebanon have rejected external intervention in Syria’s affairs while the Iraqi government has stated its opposition to fresh economic sanctions.

Non-Arab Iran has also expressed opposition to international involvement in Syria’s internal affairs while non-Arab Turkey, which sent a delegation to Rabat, helped forge the Syrian National Council, an umbrella organisation grouping exiles from secular groups and the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.