Arab League approves unprecedented sanctions on Syria

A halt to transactions with the Syrian central bank, the suspension of commercial flights and a travel ban on senior officials are among the new set of sanctions approved by the Arab League – a move Damascus has slammed as a betrayal.

At a news conference in Cairo, Qatari Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim said 19 of the League’s 22 member nations approved the sanctions to “avoid any suffering for the Syrian people.”

Qatar has also warned of foreign intervention in Syria if the Arab League sanctions fail.

However, the bloc is ready to reconsider the sanctions if Syria carries out an Arab-brokered peace plan that includes sending observers to the country and pulling tanks from the streets, Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby said.

The sanctions are a huge blow for a Syrian regime that considers itself a powerhouse of Arab nationalism. The state-owned Al-Thawra newspaper ran a front-page headline Sunday saying the Arab League is calling for “economic and commercial sanctions targeting the Syrian people.”  It said the measure is “unprecedented and contradicts the rules of Arab cooperation.”

A day earlier the Syrian Foreign Minister, Walid Muallem, accused the Arab League of agreeing, “to involvement of foreign forces in the conflict, instead of taking all measures to prevent foreign interference.” The message came in a letter to the Arab League as ministers from the group gathered in Cairo to impose heavy sanctions on Syria, reports AFP.

Muallem emphasized that the proposed conditions for deployment of Arab observers in the country were unacceptable to Syria. According to the minister, the Arab League protocol “fully ignores the role of the Syrian state and tramples underfoot national sovereignty”.

The sanctions are in response to Syria’s violent crackdown on the eight-month uprising in the country against the rule of President Bashar Assad, which the UN estimates has killed more than 3,500 people since March.

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