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Sun 27 Nov 2011 09:43 AM

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Arab states plan to cut commercial ties with Syria

Arab League mulls plan to freeze Syrian state assets in response to bloody crackdown

Arab states plan to cut commercial ties with Syria
Supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad shout slogans during a pro-regime rally in Damascus

Arab
states plan to cut commercial ties with President Bashar al-Assad's government
and freeze its assets in response to violence in Syria, where activists said 42
civilians and soldiers died on Saturday.

The
sanctions, which would plunge Syria deeper into economic crisis and regional
isolation, were drawn up by an Arab League economic committee in Cairo on
Saturday and need to be ratified by foreign ministers meeting on Sunday before
coming into force.

They
would also include a halt to commercial flights to the country, according to an
Arab League document seen by Reuters.

Dealings
with Syria's central bank would be halted, it said, but basic essentials needed
by the Syrian people would be exempted from sanctions.

The
move follows Syria's failure to let monitors into the country, part of a
broader Arab League initiative aimed at ending Assad's eight-month crackdown on
protests.

Despite
Syria's pledge to withdraw its army from cities and let in monitors, the
violence has continued, prompting unusually tough reprisals from the
Cairo-based League, stinging rebukes from Turkey and French calls for
humanitarian intervention.

Hundreds
of people - civilians, soldiers and army deserters - have been reported killed
in Syria this month, possibly the bloodiest since the unrest broke out in March
inspired by uprisings which overthrew leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

Damascus,
where the Assad family has ruled for 41 years, says regional powers helped
incite the violence, which it blames on armed groups targeting civilians and
its security forces. Syria has barred most independent media, making it hard to
verify accounts from activists or officials.

It
was not immediately clear how united any Arab embargos against Syria would be
in practice.

Iraqi
Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said his country would not take part in
Saturday's deliberations and said other Arab neighbours of Syria also had
reservations about sanctions.

"Iraq
is a neighbour to Syria and there are interests - there are hundreds of
thousands of Iraqis living in Syria and there is trade," he told reporters
in Najaf. "Lebanon also has the same idea and Jordan too has shown its
objection."

Lebanon
was one of only two countries to vote against suspending Syria from the Arab
League earlier this month.

Foreign
Minister Adnan Mansour has said his country would not impose sanctions on
Syria, but Prime Minister Najib Mikati said Lebanon would implement Arab League
decisions "because it is in our interest to be with the Arab
consensus".

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Syria's
economy is already reeling from months of unrest, aggravated by US and European
sanctions on oil exports and several state businesses.

Its
powerful non-Arab northern neighbour Turkey, a former ally, has now turned
against Assad.

"It
is important that the international community move to resolve this problem and
deliver a powerful message to the Syrian government," said Turkish Deputy
Prime Minister Ali Babacan, who was invited to attend Saturday's meeting.

The
draft document said Arab states would freeze the financing of projects on
Syrian territory and Arab central banks would monitor bank transfers and
letters of credit to make sure they comply with the sanctions. Remittances sent
home by Syrians working abroad would not be blocked.

Babacan
said the sanctions must not affect the daily life of Syria's people or threaten
basic needs such as access to water.

The
stepped-up pressure follows a French proposal for "humanitarian
corridors" to be set up through which food and medicine could be shipped to
alleviate civilian suffering.

The
proposal could link Syrian civilian centres to the frontiers of Turkey and
Lebanon, to the Mediterranean coast or to an airport, and enable supply of
humanitarian supplies or medicines to people in need.

But
United Nations humanitarian coordinator Valerie Amos suggested that setting up
humanitarian corridors into Syria or buffer zones on the border could be
premature.

"At
present, the humanitarian needs identified in Syria do not warrant the
implementation of either of those mechanisms."

Alongside
the mainly peaceful protests, armed insurgents have increasingly attacked
military targets in recent weeks. Officials say 1,100 security force members
have been killed.

State
news agency SANA reported funerals of 22 security force members on Saturday,
including six pilots killed in an attack on an air force base between Homs and
Palmyra two days earlier which the army blamed on an "armed terrorist
group".

"This
confirms the involvement of foreign elements and their support of these
terrorist operations in an effort to weaken the fighting capabilities of our forces,"
the army said on Friday.

The
account fits the government narrative that it faces an armed insurrection by
troublemakers backed by its enemies, rather than a largely peaceful pro-democracy
movement inspired by the Arab Spring revolts which toppled the rulers of
Tunisia, Egypt and Libya and may have forced out Yemen's president.

State
television showed footage of thousands of people demonstrating in the
Mediterranean city of Latakia on Saturday, condemning the Arab League for
taking a stance against Syria and chanting in support of Assad.

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