Arab League ministers recommend sweeping sanctions against Syria

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REPORTING FROM CAIRO AND BEIRUT -- With no sign that violence is easing in Syria, Arab finance ministers have recommended sweeping sanctions against the increasingly isolated regime of President Bashar Assad.

The proposal, finalized late Saturday by the Arab League’s Social and Economic Council, comes after Syria defied an ultimatum to accept an Arab observer mission to monitor implementation of a peace plan that it signed earlier this month.


It includes suspending flights to Syria, halting commercial dealings with the government, freezing its assets and suspending cooperation with the country’s central bank. Travel bans would also be imposed on a number of Syrian officials, according to a draft of the recommendations released to reporters.

The sanctions would not apply to essential commodities or to remittances that Syrians send home from abroad.

Arab foreign ministers must ratify the proposal before it takes effect. A vote could take place as soon as Sunday.

Pressure is mounting on Syria to halt a bloody crackdown on anti-government protesters and insurgents who have taken up arms against Assad’s regime.

The United Nations says more than 3,500 people have been killed since mid-March, a figure disputed by the government, which blames the unrest on Islamic militants and what it describes as armed gangs. Authorities say more than 1,100 security force members have also been killed, including 25 buried on Saturday.

Opposition activists blamed security forces for as many as 29 more deaths Saturday. Journalists and human rights activists are restricted in Syria, making it difficult to verify either side’s account.

The 22-member Arab League has already suspended Syria for failing to implement its peace plan, which calls for a withdrawal of security forces from urban areas and dialogue with the opposition.

It was a humiliating blow for Syria, a founding member of the league, which it now accuses of acting as the “tool” of the United States and other Western governments.

Syria has already faced several rounds of U.S. and European sanctions, which are taking a toll on its economy. But it retains staunch allies, including Iran, Russia and China. Lebanon has said that it would not impose any sanctions against its neighbor.


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-- Amro Hassan in Cairo and Alexandra Zavis in Beirut