UPDATE, 10:15 am EST: The Arab League has approved “unprecedented” and extensive sanctions against Syria. The sanctions including halting transations with the Syrian central bank, stopping Arab government funding for projects in Syria, ending a trade exchange with the Syrian government and a travel ban on Syrian officials. The League’s plan specifies that the Arab bloc will still assist Syria with emergency aid through the International Red Cross and Turkey’s Red Crescent.
On Saturday night, the Arab League had devised a draft plan for sanctions against Syria that will involve the suspension of commercial flights, a ban on travel for senior officials and a halt to dealings with the central bank, after the government of President Bashar al-Assad failed to meet a deadline regarding international monitors visiting the country.
Syris’a foreign minister, Walid al-Muallem, accused the 22-member Arab League of interfering in its affairs and of trying to “internationalize” the crisis, which has taken the lives of over 3,500, with more dying every day. Two-thirds of the Arab League’s members must vote to approve the draft of the sanctions, which was created by the its Social and Economic Committee; the vote will be held tomorrow, on Sunday.
As Syria depends on its Arab neighbors for half of its exports and a quarter of its imports, the sanctions are likely to have an impact. Two countries are likely to enforce sanctions fully: Iraq, Syria’s second-largest trading partner after the EU, and Lebanon, Syria’s six-largest trading partner. But two other Arab League countries, Saudi Arabia and Turkey — both of whose embassies in Syria were attacked earlier this month — are also major trading partners with Syria.
The Arab League had already threatened Syria with sanctions at the start of November, after Assad’s regime failed to withdraw troops and end the violent crackdown on protesters. The US and the European Union, which is a top importer of Syria’s oil, had already imposed major sanctions earlier this year.
France has proposed that humanitarian corridors be created to bring food and medicines to people in areas made inaccessible by military operations. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said that these convoys might require military protection, while saying that they are to be humanitarian missions. At least nine people were killed on Saturday, most in the eastern town of Deir az-Zor. Defectors from the army also killed eight Syrian soldiers.
A report from the International Crisis Group issued last week says that the crisis in Syria “undoubtedly has entered its most dangerous” phase:
The government has relentlessly stoked fear of a bloody aftermath to justify its rule, even as its very policies have begun degrading the institutions of the state, presided over an economic crisis and dangerously exacerbated sectarian tensions.
In a startling disconnect, Al Dounya, a semiofficial TV channel, began a midday news broadcast last week by saying, “May your morning be as bright as jasmine in Damascus.”
“Fear is evident in Damascus, and you see it in people’s eyes,” said Makarem, 30, a businessman who gave only his first name. “More people are turning against the regime every day, but even those are afraid of what will happen next.”
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Photo taken at a demonstration outside the Arab League in Cairo in October 2011 by S a l e e m - H o m s i