Henri Mamarbachi, AFP
Last updated: 16 November, 2011

Arabs meet in Rabat to keep pressure on Syria

The head of the Arab League urged the organisation to act decisively Wednesday to stem the bloodshed in Syria as the region tightened the screws on President Bashar al-Assad’s beleaguered regime.

As Arab foreign ministers gathered in Morocco, Turkey also joined in the diplomatic assault on its neighbour, saying it must pay dearly for its attempts to crush an uprising which the UN says has killed more than 3,500 since March.

The talks in the Moroccan capital came amid growing signs that the Assad regime is losing its grip on power with disaffected Syrian soldiers attacking a military base near Damascus.

The meeting in Rabat is intended to discuss further measures against Syria which was suspended by the 22-member bloc last weekend after it failed to implement an Arab peace plan.

These would include sanctions such as the withdrawal of ambassadors.

“Everything must be done to stop the ongoing bloodshed in Syria,” Arab League secretary-general Nabil al-Arabi told reporters on the sidelines of the meeting.

Arabi said he hoped that Arab moves to send observers to Syria would bear fruit within days. But he reiterated that no observers would be sent before a clear agreement is signed between the Arab League and Damascus.

The pan-Arab body had agreed to send 500 members of human rights groups, media representatives and military observers to Syria, which said it would welcome them to see the situation on the ground and help implement the peace plan.

Despite its suspension from the bloc, Syria had been invited to Wednesday’s meeting but decided to boycott it.

The foreign minister of Turkey, which shares a border with northern Syria, is in Rabat however where he is expected to be one of the leading hawks.

“The Syrian regime is going to pay very dearly for what it has done,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told journalists.

Turkey, once a close ally of Syria, has become increasingly outspoken in its criticism of Assad’s regime since the Syrian uprising began.

“A future cannot be built on the blood of the innocent, otherwise history will remember those leaders as the ones who feed on blood,” Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday.

Turkey has already announced a halt to joint oil exploration with Syria and has threatened to cut electricity exports there.

World leaders have been looking to the Arab League to take a tough line with Syria.

On the eve of the meeting, UN chief Ban Ki-moon said it was “crucially important now that President Assad immediately stop killing his own people” and he urged Arab states to exercise “leadership” in resolving the crisis quickly.

The United States also urged Arab leaders to step up pressure on Damascus.

They should tell Assad “that he needs to allow for a democratic transition to take place and to end the violence against his own people,” US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.

The decision by the Arab League on Saturday to suspend Syria over its crackdown on protests is only the third suspension of a member in the pan-Arab body’s history

On Monday, Jordan’s King Abdullah II urged Assad to step down over the repression, becoming the first Arab head of state to call for the Syrian president’s resignation.

His call coincided with one of the bloodiest days since the start of the uprising, with more than 70 people killed, including several suspected army deserters.

After his statement, Assad loyalists attacked the Jordanian embassy in Damascus, tearing down its flag, the latest in a series of such attacks on diplomatic missions.