Arab foreign ministers gathered in Cairo on Thursday to discuss imposing sanctions on Syria for failing to implement an Arab League plan to end a crackdown on protests against President Bashar al-Assad.
The League, which for decades has spurned ordering action against a member state, has suspended Syria and threatened unspecified sanctions for ignoring the deal it had signed up to.
Syria has turned its tanks and troops on civilian protesters, as well as on armed insurgents challenging Assad’s 11-year rule. The United Nations says more than 3,500 people have been killed.
“Syria has not offered anything to move the situation forward,” said a senior Arab diplomat at the League, adding that it was considering what kind of sanctions to impose.
“The position of the Arab states is almost unified. We all agree ... that the situation does not lead to civil war and that no foreign intervention takes place,” he said.
The Nov. 12 agreement to suspend Syria was backed by 18 of the pan-Arab organization’s 22 members. Lebanon, where Syria for many years had a military presence, and Yemen, battling its own uprising, opposed it. Iraq, whose Shi'ite-led government is wary of offending Syria's main ally Iran, abstained.
Arab ministers were meeting in a Cairo suburb instead of the League's headquarters in Tahrir Square, occupied by protesters after days of clashes with police in nearby streets.
Defectors near Rastan
Meanwhile, on Thursday, Syrian tanks bombarded hideouts of army defectors near the central town of Rastan, a resident and activists said, two months after the authorities said they had regained control of the important region on the Damascus-Aleppo highway.
Activists said around 50 tanks and armored vehicles fired anti-aircraft guns and machineguns into farmland on the edge of Rastan, 20 km (12 miles) north of the restive city of Homs.
The town was scene at the end of October of the first major fighting between troops loyal to the president and army defectors in the eight-month uprising against his rule.
In related news, France renewed its support for humanitarian corridors in Syria on Thursday but said such a move would have to either be agreed by Damascus or come under an international mandate.
Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said on Wednesday that France would ask its EU partners to consider the idea of setting up protected escape routes for Syrian civilians fleeing the Syrian regime.
He told France Inter radio on Thursday that there were two different scenarios for such a move.
“The first is that the international community, the United Nations, the Arab League, can obtain authorization from the regime for the humanitarian corridors,” he said.
“If that wasn’t the case, we would have to consider other solutions. It is possible to protect convoys, but we are not there yet,” he said.
“For us no humanitarian intervention is possible without an international mandate,” he said, adding that an international military intervention in Syria was not yet being considered.
Juppe met Wednesday in Paris with the opposition Syrian National Council leader Burhan Ghaliun.
There have been reports that Turkey and NATO allies such as France are considering imposing a no-fly zone and a buffer zone on Syrian territory to give the opposition breathing space while it organises its revolt.
No official has gone this far, however, and Juppe’s statement was the first sign that something of the sort might be envisaged.