Sunday, November 27, 2011

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

Defense News: 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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DTN News - SYRIA UNREST: Arab League To Vote Sunday On Sanctions Against Syria

Defense News: DTN News - SYRIA UNREST: Arab League To Vote Sunday On Sanctions Against Syria
(NSI News Source Info) TORONTO, Canada / CAIRO, Egypt - November 27, 2011: Syria buried 22 members of the armed forces Saturday, including six elite pilots, as the government reinforced its message that the 8-month-old revolt against President Bashar Assad is the work of terrorists and foreign agents, not patriotic Syrians seeking reform.

But with no sign of violence abating, an Arab League committee agreed Saturday on a draft of recommended sanctions against Syria, including halting co-operation with the nation's central bank and stopping flights to the country. The 22-nation body will vote on the recommendations Sunday in Cairo.

If the Arab League were to go ahead with the move, it would be a huge blow for a regime that considers itself a powerhouse of Arab nationalism.

Syria is facing mounting international pressure to end the bloody crackdown on the uprising against Assad's rule that the U.N. says has killed more than 3,500 people. The European Union and the United States have imposed several rounds of sanctions against Assad and his regime, including a ban on the import of Syrian oil.

"U.S. and European sanctions are one thing, but coming from the Arab brothers and sisters, it is psychologically and realistically much more damaging," said Nikolaos van Dam, a former diplomat and Middle East scholar.

Still, there is widely held skepticism the Arab sanctions would succeed in pressuring the Syrian regime into putting an end to the violence that has claimed the lives of dozens of Syrians, week after week. Many fear the violence is pushing the country toward civil war.

Until recently, most of the bloodshed was caused by security forces firing on mainly peaceful protests. But there have been growing reports of army defectors and armed civilians fighting Assad's forces -- a development that some say plays into the regime's hands by giving government troops a pretext to crack down with overwhelming force.

Activists said fierce clashes took place Friday and Saturday between the Syrian military and army defectors, who have grown increasingly bold in attacking troops and security targets.

At least 13 civilians were killed Saturday, 12 of them in the flashpoint Homs province, activist groups said. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 10 soldiers were killed in overnight clashes with defectors in the country's east.

Also Saturday, an Egypt-based Syrian dissident alleged that his 25-year-old pregnant wife was abducted by Syrian intelligence agents in Cairo, then released and left unconscious on a street in the Egyptian capital. The Syrian Embassy in Egypt strongly denied the claim.

Thaer al-Nashef, a vociferous opponent of Assad's regime, said he received an anonymous text message saying the abduction was meant to teach him "not to insult your masters again."

An Egyptian police official confirmed al-Nashef had filed a kidnapping complaint but gave no details about the circumstances. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Al-Nashef worked as a correspondent for Syria's SANA state news agency until 2006, when he became a regime opponent. He has lived in Egypt since 2007 and has been a vocal critic of the regime, appearing often on Egyptian TV stations to discuss the uprising.

Since the revolt began, the regime has blamed armed gangs acting out a foreign conspiracy for the bloodshed.

In a bid to reinforce that message, the Syrian Information Ministry took Syrian journalists to Homs for the funeral of 17 members of the armed forces killed recently in various attacks, including the six pilots and four technical officers who were killed in Thursday's ambush.

Syria has banned foreign journalists and prevented independent reporting, making escorted trips the only official way to cover events within the country.

Ghassan Abdul-Aal, the governor of Homs, insisted Saturday that the government would continue to target criminals.

During the funeral procession, 17 coffins wrapped in Syrian flags were carried by members of the armed forces, some of them in tears.

Many of the attacks against Syrian security forces are believed to be carried out by a group of army defectors known as the Free Syrian Army and other Syrians who increasingly have taken up arms against the regime.

Sobbing and burying her face behind his photo, the mother of Intisar Dayoub, one of the six pilots, urged the government to punish the perpetrators and to "hit with an iron fist against whoever tries to ruin our country."

It is not clear how or whether Arab sanctions would effectively impact the Syrian regime, especially without a mechanism in place to ensure compliance.

The Arab League's recommendations for sanctions specified that the Arab bloc will assist Syria with emergency aid through the help of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent, working with local civilian groups to deliver goods.

Syrian neighbours Iraq and Lebanon already have expressed reservations about the sanctions.

"There are hundreds of thousands of Iraqis living in Syria and there are trade relations and exchanged visits," Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said during a press conference in Najaf.

There are concerns that the unrest in Syria could send unsettling ripples through the region.

Syria is a geographical and political keystone in the heart of the Middle East, bordering five countries with whom it shares religious and ethnic minorities and, in Israel's case, a fragile truce. Its web of allegiances extends to Lebanon's powerful Hezbollah movement and Iran's Shiite theocracy.

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