Bloomberg News

Syrian Forces Make Arrests as Arab League Discusses Violence

October 16, 2011

(Updates with protests in seventh paragraph, analyst comment in eighth, adds background.)

Oct. 16 (Bloomberg) -- Syrian security forces carried out raids and made arrests today as Arab foreign ministers met in Cairo to discuss the violence.

Ahead of today’s emergency Arab League meeting, a group of foreign ministers headed by Qatar’s representative debated ways in which to pressure the regime of Syrian President Bashar al- Assad into ending its deadly crackdown against protesters, Egypt’s state-run Middle East News Agency said. One proposal was to suspend Syria’s membership, the news agency reported, citing an unidentified diplomat.

Protests demanding the ouster of Assad started in March during a wave of unrest across the Middle East and North Africa that has unseated governments in Tunisia and Egypt and sent Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi on the run. Assad has blamed the demonstrations in Syria on foreign-backed extremists.

“There’s a wide campaign of arrests,” Mahmoud Merei, Damascus-based head of the Arab Organization for Human Rights, said in a telephone interview. “We don’t have numbers yet because it’s difficult to reach the various areas.” Fifteen people were killed yesterday across the country, he said.

At least 4,000 Syrian civilians have been killed by security forces, according to Ammar Qurabi of the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria. The United Nations published a lower estimate on Oct. 14 of more than 3,000, including at least 187 children.

Suspension Warning

“I expect the league to warn Syria that it may suspend its membership,” Merei said. “A suspension would be an effective and important tool. We were hoping that the Arab League could mediate a dialogue between the Syrian opposition and the regime but there was no response from the Syrian government.”

A group of opponents of the Syrian regime gathered outside the Cairo headquarters of the Arab League today, chanting: “Leave, Bashar.”

Emad Gad, an analyst at the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, said suspending Syria’s membership would send a strong message. “This is a step that Arabs only take when they realize that there’s no use in talking to the regime. Suspending the membership is like washing their hands of the regime.”

The effect of such a move “will depend on the reaction of the Syrian regime,” and it is likely Assad’s government “will not respond,” he said.

Suspension Request

The Arab Parliament, a body set up by the Arab League, asked the League to suspend the membership of Syria due to its violent crackdown against protesters, Al Arabiya television reported on Sept. 20.

In February, the Arab League suspended the participation of Libya in its council meetings, citing the North African government’s crackdown on protesters.

Syria’s opposition is trying to follow the path taken by Libya’s rebels, who formed a transitional council that became the main governing authority in the North African country in August after they seized Tripoli, the capital. Syrian activists on Oct. 2 formed a council to coordinate efforts to end Assad’s rule and stop his deadly crackdown.

--Editors: Digby Lidstone, Andrew J. Barden

To contact the reporter on this story: Mariam Fam in Cairo at mfam1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net


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