CAIRO, (AFP) — The Arab League announced a fresh meeting on Syria days after voting to suspend Damascus, as global pressure mounted on Monday on President Bashar al-Assad’s regime over its lethal crackdown on protests.
In Brussels, diplomats said the European Union is set to slap further sanctions on Syria, targeting 18 people and freezing credits, with the measures likely to be agreed upon at talks between the EU’s foreign ministers on Monday.
The Arab League talks scheduled for Wednesday come after the 22-member bloc’s surprise weekend decision to suspend Syria, drawing international praise but sparking mob attacks on foreign embassies in Damascus.
“We have decided on a meeting of foreign ministers of the Arab League on November 16 at Rabat (Morocco), on Syria,” Algerian foreign ministry spokesman Amar Belani told AFP.
Arab foreign ministers had met in Cairo on November 2, and drew up a plan to end the violence in Syria which has left 3,500 dead since mid-March according to the United Nations.
Under the deal, Syria would pull back its troops from the cities that were the focus of the anti-government protests and free demonstrators arrested since the start of the uprising.
An Arab League official in Cairo told AFP that Wednesday’s meeting would assess the degree to which Syria had applied the November 2 agreement.
“The implementation of the suspension is due to begin on Wednesday. The foreign ministers will meet in Morocco to assess the situation and implement the deal,” the official said.
The November 2 meeting had given Syria 15 days to comply with the peace plan.
On Sunday, Algerian Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci said Syria’s suspension was “temporary and we will be able to lift it as quickly as possible.”
At a meeting of the League’s foreign ministers in Cairo on Saturday, 18 of the 22 members voted to suspend Syria from November 16 over its failure to comply with an agreement to end its crackdown on protests.
Syria, Yemen and Lebanon voted against the measure, and Iraq abstained.
The foreign ministers recommended the withdrawal of Arab envoys from Damascus and agreed on sanctions, while inviting “all currents in the Syrian opposition” to meet at its Cairo headquarters to map out a transition.
Despite the suspension, Syria is to retain its seat at the Arab League, unlike the decision to expel Egypt in 1979 when it signed a peace treaty with Israel.
In practical terms, the suspension means Syrian delegates and ministers will not be allowed to take part in the League’s activities.
The Arab League resolution won widespread praise from the international community.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Monday that he backed the suspension, but his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov condemned it, saying the move was “incorrect.”
“It’s important that the EU consider additional measures” against the Syrian regime, Hague said ahead of the EU ministers’ meeting.
China, meanwhile, on Monday urged Syria to implement the Arab League plan.
In a statement on Monday, the SNC said Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had assured the opposition group at a meeting with its delegates that Ankara would work with the League to implement its decisions.
In an announcement seen as an attempt to head off the suspension, Syrian state television said on Sunday that Damascus had called for an urgent summit of the Arab League “to address the crisis and its negative consequences in the Arab world.”
The report came even as Arab League head Nabil al-Arabi was announcing the group would be “studying mechanisms it could implement to protect civilians in Syria.”
The League’s decision prompted an outpouring of anger among Assad supporters who surged in their tens of thousands into central Damascus on Sunday to show their support for the president.
Late Saturday, hundreds of angry demonstrators attacked the embassies of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which were among the countries that voted to suspend Syria. The attacks sparked howls of international outrage.
Assad’s exiled uncle, Rifaat, meanwhile, proposed Sunday that Arab countries negotiate a deal with Damascus that guarantees the president’s security “to allow him to resign”.
“The regime is ready to leave, but it wants guarantees, not only for its members but also that there will not be civil war after its departure,” said the former deputy president.
Activists accused Assad’s security forces of killing at least nine people on Sunday in the restive central cities of Homs and Hama, while also reporting that two members of the security forces were killed in an ambush.
In the eastern city of Deir Ezzor, a 15-year-old boy was killed when “security forces opened fire to disperse a group of students who tried to join a demonstration,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.