Monday, October 17, 2011

Syria Musters Regional Support

Syria Avoids Arab League Suspension

By Aya Batrawy and Maggie Michael
The Associated Press
Sunday, October 16 2011

Persian Gulf countries seeking to suspend Syria's membership in the Arab League over its bloody crackdown on protesters failed to gain enough support Sunday to push the measure through, reflecting deep divisions among the body's 22 nations.

Arab foreign ministers met at the group's Cairo headquarters behind closed doors for an initial session without Syria's representative, then took a break and reconvened for talks with Syrian diplomats that lasted late into the night.

Just after the meeting with Syrian diplomats, Qatar Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim made no mention of a possible suspension and instead gave Syria a 15-day deadline to enact a cease-fire.

The Arab League also agreed to create a committee led by Qatar to oversee the situation in Syria and said a national dialogue between Syrian officials and the opposition would take place at the league's headquarters in Cairo.

"A national dialogue in 15 days is one of the most important decisions of the day," bin Jassim said.

The talks are to include members of the opposition from outside Syria as well as inside. If the meeting and a cease-fire do not take place within the allotted time frame, the Arab League will meet again in an emergency session, participants said.

The move to suspend Syria's membership would have required the support of at least two-thirds of the league's members. A bloc of six gulf nations, including Saudi Arabia, was leading the push for the measure along with recognition of the opposition leadership, the Syrian National Council, said an Arab diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Many gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, have withdrawn their ambassadors from Syria to protest the regime's bloody response to the protests.

However, the diplomat said, a significant bloc of countries was opposed to suspension, including Sudan, Algeria, Lebanon and Yemen, whose leader is also facing a serious uprising. According to Arab League diplomats, Mideast heavyweight Egypt did not indicate which side it is on.

Suspension of an Arab League member is rare. Although the move would probably not have a direct, tangible impact on Syria, it would constitute a major blow to President Bashar Assad's embattled regime by stripping Damascus of its Arab support and further deepening its isolation.

The United Nations says more than 3,000 people have been killed since the uprising began in mid-March.

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