- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 27, 2011

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 8-month-old uprising against President Bashar Assad.

But even as world leaders abandon Mr. Assad, the regime refused to ease a military assault on dissent that already has killed more than 3,500 people. Human rights activists said 30 more protesters were killed in demonstrations Sunday.

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 Mr. Assad has been abandoned by some of his closest allies and now his Arab neighbors. 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 Arab 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-unidentified 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,” Mr. bin Jassim said. “Power is worth nothing while you stand as an enemy to your 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 Arab League has suspended Syria’s membership, and world leaders increasingly are calling on Mr. Assad to resign.

Syria has seen the bloodiest crackdown against the Arab Spring’s eruption of protests.