Arab League imposes unprecedented sanctions on Syria

In an unprecedented move against an Arab nation, the Arab League on Sunday approved economic sanctions on Syria to pressure Damascus to end its deadly suppression of an eight-month-old uprising against President Bashar Assad.

BEIRUT — In an unprecedented move against an Arab nation, the Arab League on Sunday approved economic sanctions on Syria to pressure Damascus to end its deadly suppression of an eight-month-old uprising against President Bashar Assad.

But even as world leaders abandon Assad, the regime has refused to ease a military assault on dissent that already has killed more than 3,500 people. On Sunday, Damascus slammed the sanctions as a betrayal of Arab solidarity and insisted a foreign conspiracy was behind the revolt, all but assuring more bloodshed will follow.

The sanctions are among the clearest signs yet of the isolation Syria is suffering because of the crackdown. Damascus has long boasted of being a powerhouse of Arab nationalism, but Assad has been abandoned by some of his closest allies and now his Arab neighbours. The growing movement against his regime could transform some of the most enduring alliances in the Middle East and beyond.

At a news conference in Cairo, Qatari Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim said 19 of the League’s 22 member nations approved a series of tough punishments that include cutting off transactions with the Syrian central bank, halting Arab government funding for projects in Syria and freezing government assets. Those sanctions are to take effect immediately.

Other steps, including halting flights and imposing travel bans on some, as-yet unnamed Syrian officials, will come later after a committee reviews them.

“The Syrian people are being killed but we don’t want this. Every Syrian official should not accept killing even one person,” bin Jassim said. “Power is worth nothing while you stand as an enemy to your people.”

He added that the League aims to “to avoid any suffering for the Syrian people.”

Iraq and Lebanon — important trading partners for Syria — abstained from the vote, which came after Damascus missed an Arab League deadline to agree to allow hundreds of observers into the country as part of a peace deal Syria agreed to early this month to end the crisis.

Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby said the bloc will reconsider the sanctions if Syria carries out the Arab-brokered plan, which includes pulling tanks from the streets and ending violence against civilians.

The regime, however, has shown no signs of easing its crackdown, and activist groups said more than 30 people were killed Sunday. The death toll was impossible to confirm. Syria has banned most foreign journalists and prevented independent reporting inside the country.

The Local Coordinating Committees, a coalition of Syrian activist groups, praised the sanctions but called for a mechanism to ensure compliance.

“The sanctions leave open the opportunity for the regime to commit fraud and strip the sanctions of any substance, thereby prolonging the suffering of the Syrian people at the hands of an oppressive and brutal regime,” the group said.

The Arab League move is the latest in a growing wave of international pressure pushing Damascus to end its crackdown. The European Union and the United States already have imposed sanctions, the League has suspended Syria’s membership and world leaders increasingly are calling on Assad to go. But as the crisis drags on, the violence appears to be spiraling out of control as attacks by army defectors increase and some protesters take up arms to protect themselves.

Syria has seen the bloodiest crackdown against the Arab Spring’s eruption of protests, and has descended into a deadly grind. Though internationally isolated, Assad appears to have a firm grip on power with the loyalty of most of the armed forces, which in the past months have moved from city to city to put down uprisings.

In each place, however, protests have resumed.

The escalating bloodshed has raised fears of civil war — a worst-case scenario in a country that is a geographical and political keystone in the heart of the Middle East.

Syria borders five countries with whom it shares religious and ethnic minorities and, in Israel’s case, a fragile truce. Its web of allegiances extends to Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah movement and Iran’s Shiite theocracy. Chaos in Syria could send unsettling ripples across the region.

For now, Assad still has a strong bulwark to prevent his meeting the same fate as the leaders of Egypt, Tunisia or Libya anytime soon. His key advantages are the support of Russia and China, fear among many Syrians about a future without Assad, and the near-certainty that foreign militaries will stay away.

But the unrest is eviscerating the economy, threatening the business community and prosperous merchant classes that are key to propping up the regime. An influential bloc, the business leaders have long traded political freedoms for economic privileges.

The opposition has tried to rally these largely silent, but hugely important, sectors of society. But Assad’s opponents have failed so far to galvanize support in Damascus and Aleppo — the two economic centres in Syria.

Sunday’s sanctions, however, could chip away at their resolve.

Since the revolt began, the regime has blamed the bloodshed on terrorists acting out a foreign conspiracy to divide and undermine Syria. The bloodshed has laid bare Syria’s long-simmering sectarian tensions, with disturbing reports of Iraq-style sectarian killings.

Syria is an overwhelmingly Sunni country of 22 million, but Assad and the ruling elite belong to the minority Alawite sect. Assad, and his father before him, stacked key military posts with Alawites to meld the fates of the army and the regime — a tactic aimed at compelling the army to fight to the death to protect the Assad family dynasty.

Until recently, most of the bloodshed was caused by security forces firing on mainly peaceful protests. Lately, there have been growing reports of army defectors and armed civilians fighting Assad’s forces — a development that some say plays into the regime’s hands by giving government troops a pretext to crack down with overwhelming force.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

(Advocate file photo).
RDC wins two national awards for environmental initiatives

Clean50 and LEED awards were received for innovative, green projects

St. Joseph High School, Notre Dame High School, Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School, and St. Thomas Aquinas School are all dealing with COVID-19 outbreaks of 10 or more cases. (File photo by Advocate staff)
COVID-19 impacting Red Deer schools

Education minister says 99.6 per cent of students and staff remain in school in Alberta

Sylvan Lake product Carter Graf is having a strong second season at North Carolina State University representing the Wolfpack in NCAA Div. 1 men’s golf. (Photo courtesy of NC State Athletics)
Sylvan Lake’s Carter Graf finding success in second season at NC State

Carter Graf and the North Carolina State Wolfpack have been scorching hot… Continue reading

DynaLife is hiring more staff to bring waiting times for blood tests down in Red Deer. (AP Photo/Jacqueline Larma, File)
DynaLIFE is hiring more staff in Red Deer to reduce wait times

Wait times for appointment will be further reduced

sign
Alberta Biobord Corp. recently hosted a virtual open house from Stettler

The company plans to develop a fuel pellet and medium density fibre board (MDF) plant near the community

A vial of the Medicago vaccine sits on a surface. CARe Clinic, located in Red Deer, has been selected to participate in the third phase of vaccine study. (Photo courtesy www.medicago.com)
Red Deer clinical research centre participating in plant-based COVID-19 vaccine trial

A Red Deer research centre has been selected to participate in the… Continue reading

A Quebec Superior Court justice is set to issue a ruling Tuesday on the constitutionality of the province’s secularism law, known as Bill 21. People hold up signs during a demonstration against Bill 21 in Montreal, Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Quebec court upholds most of province’s secularism law, exempts English school boards

MONTREAL — Quebec’s secularism law is largely legal, a Superior Court judge… Continue reading

Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth speaks during a press conference at the legislature in Victoria, Monday, Oct. 28, 2019. The British Columbia government is providing a few more details about travel restrictions aimed at limiting movement around the province to slow the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Periodic roadblocks but no individual stops planned for B.C.’s COVID-19 travel rules

VICTORIA — The British Columbia government is looking at using periodic roadblocks… Continue reading

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is joined virtually by Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland as they talk online to a group of front-line pharmacists from across the country to discuss the ongoing vaccination efforts in the fight against COVID‑19, from the Prime Ministers office on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Provinces balk at Liberals’ child-care budget pledge as funding negotiations loom

OTTAWA — Multiple provincial governments are questioning the Liberals’ promise of a… Continue reading

Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges empty vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine that she has provided to customers at the Junction Chemist, an independent pharmacy in Toronto, Monday, April 19, 2021. Younger Canadians in several provinces are now able to get the AstraZeneca vaccine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Trudeau, Freeland seeking AstraZeneca shots as they become age-eligible with others

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland… Continue reading

The Rogers Logo is photographed on a Toronto office on Monday, September 30, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Tijana Martin
Rogers says wireless service fully restored but questions remain after massive outage

A massive countrywide wireless outage that left millions of Rogers Communications Inc.… Continue reading

sign
Alberta Biobord Corp. recently hosted a virtual open house from Stettler

The company plans to develop a fuel pellet and medium density fibre board (MDF) plant near the community

The controversial Super League is materializing after Madrid and 11 other clubs announced its creation on Sunday. (File photo by BLACK PRESS)
Super League a ‘longtime dream’ for Madrid president Pérez

League created because coronavirus pandemic left clubs in a dire financial situation

San Jose Sharks centre Patrick Marleau (12) skates during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Minnesota Wild, in San Jose, Calif., Monday, March 29, 2021. Marleau is skating in his 1,757th game. Only one other player in NHL history has hit that mark. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Tony Avelar
Patrick Marleau set to break Gordie Howe’s record for most NHL games played

Marleau was set to suit up for the 1,768th time Monday

Most Read