Arab League approves Syria sanctions

A demonstration by supporters of Syrian President Assad against the Arab League, in Damascus, Friday, Nov. 25, 2011.
AP Photo/Muzaffar Salman

BEIRUT - The Arab League overwhelmingly approved sanctions Sunday against Syria to pressure Damascus to end its deadly eight-month crackdown on dissent, an unprecedented move by the League against an Arab state.

At a news conference in Cairo, Qatari Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim said 19 of the League's 22 member nations approved the sanctions; Iraq and Lebanon abstained.

"We aim to avoid any suffering for the Syrian people," bin Jassim said.

CBS News Foreign Affairs Analyst Pamela Falk referred to the sanctions imposed by the pan-Arab organization - a group that Syria helped create - as "crippling."

They include: The halt of transactions with Syria's central bank; an embargo on investments; and an assets freeze and travel ban on government officials, Falk said.

"The sanctions follow several last-ditch efforts by the League and by the U.N. General Assembly, to give the government of Bashar Assad time to resolve the crisis with a political solution," said Falk. "It also follows unheeded calls by the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to end the bloodshed and send an observer mission to protect civilians."

She said the sanctions will increase pressure on Syria from its Arab allies, "making it more likely that the U.N. Security Council will follow suit with a lesser but enforceable resolution condemning the crackdown on civilians."

Before the vote, Damascus slammed the vote as a betrayal of Arab solidarity. Besides punishing an already ailing economy, the sanctions are a huge blow for a Syrian regime that considers itself a powerhouse of Arab nationalism.

Assad: I will not stop fight against ''terrorists''

The sanctions are the latest in a growing wave of international pressure pushing Syria to end its violent suppression of protests against President Bashar Assad, which the U.N. says has killed more than 3,500 people since March.

Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby said the bloc will reconsider the sanctions if Syria carries out an Arab-brokered peace plan that includes sending observers to the country and pulling tanks from the streets.

"We call on Syria to quickly approve the Arab initiative," he said.

The state-owned Al-Thawra newspaper ran a front-page headline Sunday saying the Arab League is calling for "economic and commercial sanctions targeting the Syrian people." It said the measure is "unprecedented and contradicts the rules of Arab cooperation."

Since the revolt began, the regime has blamed armed gangs acting out a foreign conspiracy for the bloodshed.

It is not clear whether Arab sanctions will succeed in pressuring the Syrian regime into ending the violence that has killed dozens of Syrians, week after week. Many fear the violence is pushing the country toward civil war.

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.

On Sunday, activists reported fierce clashes in the flashpoint city of Homs, in central Syria, pitting soldiers against army defectors.

The death toll from violence in Homs and elsewhere across the country was mounting Sunday. The Local Coordinating Committees, a coalition of Syrian activist groups, put the toll at 26, but the figure was impossible to confirm.

Syria has banned most foreign journalists and prevented independent reporting inside the country.