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Arab League approves sanctions against Syria

THE Arab League on Sunday overwhelmingly approved a series of economic sanctions against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, including freezing the assets of senior figures, banning high-level Syrian officials from visiting Arab nations and ending dealings with the country’s central bank, Alice Fordham writes in Washington Post.

The decision is the first of its kind by a body which is often perceived as divided and indecisive, and some members are skeptical. Iraq, Lebanon and Algeria abstained from the vote.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Saturday that Iraq has “reservations” about sanctions and analysts doubt Iraq would implement them. And Lebanon, whose government is dominated by groups that support Assad, including the militant political group Hezbollah, also is unlikely to enforce the sanctions.

 

But the measures, announced in a press conference in Cairo by Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, could nonetheless have a significant impact on the Syrian government and business community, and represent a hardening stance of Arab countries against Assad.

 

Halting dealings with the central bank will make international trade more difficult, said Chris Phillips of the Economist Intelligence Unit, as will the ban against commercial flights between Syria and Arab countries, which could impact on the business community that has benefited from Assad’s liberalization measures and has thus far remained largely supportive of the government.

 

Phillips said, however, that the chance of the business community joining a growing but fractured community of defected soldiers and anti-government gunmen to overthrow the leadership was very slim. “It isn’t clear how sanctions would help to bring about regime change,” he said.

 

Within Syria, anti-government activists said they welcomed the action taken by the Arab League, but some sought more international involvement, calling on the United Nations Security Council to impose a no-fly zone on the country and support the group of army defectors and armed dissidents known as the Free Syrian Army.

 

Hadi al-Abdullah, an activist in the city of Homs, said the violence was growing worse daily, with sectarian fighting and clashes between security forces and armed anti-government groups claiming dozens of lives daily.

 

“We call for militarized buffer zones on the borders and a no-fly zone,” he said. “Every hour matters, we are seeing our loved ones die.”

 

However, like other Syrians, Abdullah expressed concern that food and fuel shortages, already harsh, particularly for the poorest people, would worsen with tightened economic sanctions.

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