- Associated Press - Saturday, November 12, 2011

CAIRO (AP) — The Arab League voted Saturday to suspend Syria in four days and warned the regime could face sanctions if it does not end its bloody crackdown against anti-government protesters. The decision was a symbolic blow to a nation that prides itself on being a powerhouse of Arab nationalism.

Qatar’s Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim said 18 countries agreed to the suspension, which was scheduled to take effect on Wednesday in a significant escalation of international pressure on President Bashar Assad’s government. Syria, Lebanon and Yemen voted against it, and Iraq abstained.

The Arab League also will consider introducing political and economic sanctions against Syria.

Syria is a dear country for all of us and it pains us to make this decision,” bin Jassim said. “We hope there will be a brave move from Syria to stop the violence and begin a real dialogue toward real reform.”

The decision comes as November shapes up to be the bloodiest month yet in Syria’s 8-month-old uprising, with more than 250 Syrian civilians killed so far, most as part of a siege of the rebellious city of Homs, according to activist groups.

Yussef al-Ahmad, Syria's ambassador to the Arab League, is surrounded by cameramen during the Arab League emergency session on Syria at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo, Egypt, Saturday, Nov.12, 2011. The Arab League has voted to suspend Syria from all meetings until it implements a plan to end bloodshed. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
Yussef al-Ahmad, Syria’s ambassador to the Arab League, is surrounded by cameramen ... more >

Bin Jassim suggested that Arab League members withdraw their ambassadors from Damascus but left that up to the individual countries.

The 22-member league will monitor the situation and revisit the decision in a meeting Wednesday in the Moroccan capital Rabat, bin Jassim said, a move that appeared to give Assad time to prevent the action from being implemented.

Syria’s envoy to the Arab League, Youssef Ahmed, called the decision “illegal and contrary to the league’s internal charter,” according to the country’s state-run news agency SANA.

Ahmed was quoted as saying that Syria remains committed to its pledges to the Arab League and said Damascus is calling on the “armed opposition abroad to lay down arms, surrender, stop the violence and accept a national dialogue.”

The vote was a strong message from the Cairo-based organization and showed growing impatience as violence has continued unabated since Syria agreed on Nov. 2 to an Arab-brokered peace deal that called for the Syria to halt attacks against protesters, pull tanks and armored vehicles out of cities, release political prisoners and allow journalists and rights groups into the country.

Arab nations also are eager to avoid seeing another Arab leader toppled violently and dragged through the streets, as happened to Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi last month. An Arab League decision had paved the way for the U.N.-mandated no-fly zone and NATO airstrikes that eventually brought down Gadhafi, but bin Jassim stressed international intervention was not on the agenda.

“No one is talking about a no-fly zone, people are trying to mix up the cases. None of us is talking about this kind of decision,” he said.

Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby echoed that sentiment.

“This decision reflects a lack of foreign intervention,” he said. “The Arab League has been calling on Syria to stop the violence for four months and it hasn’t happened.”

The international community is limited in what it can do to help solve the Syrian crisis. NATO has ruled out the kind of military intervention that helped topple Gadhafi. Sanctions from the United Nations, the United States and the European Union are chipping away at the regime, but the economy has not collapsed.

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