Arab foreign ministers gathered in Cairo on Sunday to vote on a list of sanctions against Syria, designed to contain President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and quash the bloody crackdown on anti-government protest.
The organization has imposed a set of “unprecedented sanctions” against the regime which go into effect immediately.
The sanctions include freezing of assets, a halt on dealing with Syria’s central bank and stopping investments and a travel ban on high ranking officials, Sheikh Hamad Bin Jasim Bin Jaber Al Thani told reporters today in Cairo.
Thani told a news conference that the measures had been accepted, but that Iraq had abstained and would refuse to implement them, while Lebanon “disassociated itself.”
Despite the Arab ministers saying that sanctions are not intended to hurt ordinary people, fears are mounting that a vote on these measures could plunge Syria deeper into economic crisis.
“If that is to happen [the sanctions], it will be very unfortunate because the damage will be to all sides,” Syrian Economy Minister Mohammed Nidal al-Shaar told AFP.
But he said that he did not expect all Arab countries to back the recommendation.
Among those who are expected to oppose the sanctions are Syria’s immediate neighbors Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq who may be wary of damage to trade and commercial interests, or have political reservations.
The vote comes after Damascus defied an ultimatum to accept observers under an Arab League peace plan and put an end to the eight-month crackdown.
“Today’s meeting will focus on two issues. First approving the decisions taken by the economic council yesterday and finding a way to force them on the Syrian regime that does not let the regime find a way to skirt them,” a senior League source told Reuters.
“The most important thing we are seeking is that sanctions make a difference and get implemented,” he said, asking not to be named because of the sensitivity of the subject.
The League for decades avoided action against its 22 members but the pan-Arab body has been galvanized by pressure from Gulf Arabs already angry at Syria’s alliance with their regional rival Iran and changes brought about by Arab uprisings.
Bahrain, Qatar advise nationals to leave Syria
Bahrain and Qatar on Sunday called on their citizens residing in Syria to leave the unrest-swept country, following a similar move by the United Arab Emirates which advised its citizens to stay away.
The Gulf states issued the call on the day the Arab League was deciding on sanctions.
Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has urged all Qatari citizens not to travel to Syria due to the prevailing security conditions, an official told Qatar News Agency.
Bahrain’s foreign ministry, meanwhile, said the travel advisory was issued because of instability in Syria.
The government-led crackdown on civilians protesting against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad has claimed more than 3,500 lives since it erupted in mid-March, according to U.N. figures.
The Syrian Revolution General Commission said that three people, including one child, were killed early Sunday on the outskirts of Damascus by security forces.
Emergency telephone numbers were announced by the Qatari ministry for its citizens in Syria that feel they are in danger.
In Doha, the foreign ministry urged Qataris to leave Syria “as soon as possible,” while Abu Dhabi earlier in the week advised Emiratis to delay travel plans to Syria.
The Qatari and Saudi embassies in Damascus have been attacked during pro-regime demonstrations, prompting Arab League condemnation of the attacks and an apology by the Syrian foreign minister Walid al-Muallem in a press conference this month. But despite this, further attacks on the Moroccan, Emirati and Qatari embassies followed.
Arab states of the Gulf have been at the forefront of calls to sanction Syria over its eight-month crackdown.