Islamic body urges Syria to stop ‘excessive force’ against civilians

The head of the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu (R), said the body would work to resolve the unrest in Syria internally. (Reuters)

The world’s largest Muslim body on Wednesday raised concerns about the international response to the crisis in Syria, calling on Syrian authorities to “immediately stop the use of excessive force” against its citizens.

In a statement released at the end of emergency talks on Syria, the head of the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu called upon the regime of President Bashar al-Assad to “respond to the decisions of the Arab League.”

“The executive committee (of the OIC) ... urges the Syrian authorities to immediately stop using excessive force against citizens and to respect human rights,” the final statement said.

Syrian security forces have been using lethal force to crack down on demonstrations that began in March against 41 years of rule by Bashar al-Assad’s family. Assad, meanwhile, says his forces are confronting saboteurs inspired by foreign powers.

Ihsanoglu also praised the Arab League efforts to halt the poltical and humanitarian crisis in Syria, which included imposing economic sanctions on the country.

Earlier, the OIC chief rejected any moves to “internationalize” the crisis, but instead said the body would work to resolve the unrest internally.

“We are keen to preserve Syria’s safety, security and stability, and insist on rejecting the internationalization of the Syrian crisis and on working towards resolving it within the broader Islamic family as represented by the OIC,” said in the Saudi Red Sea port city of Jeddah ahead of an emergency ministerial meeting of the pan-Islamic body.

“We also refuse any military intervention and affirm our respect to Syria and its sovereignty... and welcome international and Arab efforts” Ihsanoglu added.

“We have exhausted all our mechanisms and powers in our attempt to bridge the gap and end bloodshed” in Syria, said Ihsanoglu, urging ministers to “reach practical recommendations that would help achieve a compromising solution.”

The OIC chief also condemned the lack of a breakthrough to end the violence since March that the United Nations says killed more than 3,500 people, mostly civilians, in its first eight months.

The outcome of the ministerial meeting may be moving towards a decsion by the OIC to impose sanctions on Syria similar to the Arab League, an Al Arabiya correspondent reported.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, and Ali Akbar Salehi, his counterpart from Iran which is a key regional ally of the regime in Damascus are attending the meeting, which is closed off to press access, an Al Arabiya correspondent reported.

On Wednesday, activists reported that 11 civilians were killed by Syrian forces in the flashpoint provinces of Idlib and Homs, while in the southern Daraa province, cradle of eight months of anti-regime unrest, a blast killed seven security forces, AFP reported.

The Arab League approved on Sunday sweeping sanctions against Assad’s government over the crackdown − the first time that bloc has enforced punitive measures of such magnitude on one of its own members.

Measures include an immediate ban on transactions with Damascus and its central bank and a freeze on Syrian government assets in Arab countries.

They also bar Syrian officials from visiting Arab countries and call for a suspension of all flights to Arab states to be implemented on a date to be set next week.

United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahayan said he was still hoping Syria would admit observers and avoid sanctions due to be unveiled by Saturday.

European and Arab diplomats say the top United Nations human rights forum will paint a grim picture of events in Syria at a special session on Friday which is likely to condemn the Syrian government for crimes against humanity.

On Monday, a U.N. report said Syrian forces have committed murder, torture and rape against pro-democracy protesters.

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