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Arab League votes to impose sanctions against Syria

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 9:13 AM EST, Mon November 28, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Iraq and Lebanon -- two of Syria's largest economic partners -- didn't back sanctions
  • Qatari foreign minister: "We have responsibilities....to stop the bloodshed in Syria"
  • Syrian state television said the move to impose sanctions "lacks legality"
  • The British Foreign office praises the Arab League's decision

Cairo (CNN) -- Foreign ministers from 19 Arab League countries voted Sunday to slap economic sanctions against the Syrian regime, officials said.

"All the steps that we are carrying out are to avoid a foreign intervention in Syria. Will we succeed? We don't know. We hope that eventually we will. That's why we keep trying to solve the crisis within the Arab framework. We have responsibilities not only as Arabs but as human beings to stop the bloodshed in Syria," Qatari Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani told reporters in televised remarks.

Iraq and Lebanon abstained from voting, officials said.

CORRECTION
Lebanon abstained from an Arab League vote to impose economic sanctions on Syria. An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported Lebanon's vote.

The foreign ministers agreed to stop dealing with Syria's central bank, to ban high-profile Syrian officials from visiting Arab nations and to freeze the assets of the Syrian government, according to a senior league official who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

The league official said a committee would meet Saturday in Doha, Qatar, to work out details of imposing the sanctions to avoid harming Syrian citizens and neighboring countries. It was not clear how effective sanctions would be if Iraq and Lebanon -- two of Syria's largest economic partners -- do not participate.

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Egyptian state television reported that Sunday's vote was the first time the Arab League had taken such steps against an Arab country.

Syrian state television said the move "lacks legality."

"The economic sanction against the rights of the Syrian people indicates a halt in trade and economic relations," the state-run network said.

The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency said demonstrators in Syria's northeastern Hasaka province protested the Arab League's decision.

"The participants condemned the conspiracy hatched against the homeland with the aim of undermining Syria's resistant role," the state agency said.

Qatar's foreign minister said officials were aiming sanctions at Syrian's government, not its people. Such steps are necessary as long as Syria's government refused to allow Arab League observers into the country, he said.

"We are talking about a humanitarian crisis. It is not a political maneuver," he said.

On Saturday, Arab League finance ministers recommended that economic sanctions be levied against the Syrian government for its part in a bloody crackdown on civilian demonstrators, a senior league official said.

Before Sunday's vote, the Syrian Arab News Agency called the move an "unprecedented procedure (that) contradicts the rules of the economic and trade cooperation among the Arab countries and targets the Syrian people."

Damascus had failed to respond to a Friday deadline for it to allow Arab League observers into the Middle Eastern country to monitor the government's response to civil unrest.

The slate of sanctions proposed Saturday in Cairo included barring any private or commercial airlines from the league's 22 member states from flying into or out of Syria. The Arab League is still studying that proposal, the senior league official said Sunday.

The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office praised Sunday's "unprecedented" vote.

"We welcome the Arab League's leadership in seeking an end to the horrific violence in Syria," the office said in a statement.

More clashes erupted in Syria on Sunday, with at least 12 people killed, according to the Local Coordination Committees of Syria activist group.

State-run SANA, meanwhile, reported that 25 army and security force members were buried Saturday.

"The martyrs were killed in the line of duty by the armed terrorist groups in the governorates of Damascus Countryside, Homs and Hama," the report said.

"The families of the martyrs expressed pride in their sons' martyrdom ... stressing that Syria will remain steadfast in the face of the conspiracy which targets its unity and stability."

CNN cannot independently verify reports from either side, since Syria's government has restricted access to international news organizations.

The instability in Syria has prompted Bahrain's Ministry of Foreign Affairs to urge all citizens in Syria to leave, according to the Bahraini news agency BNA. The ministry also said citizens should avoid traveling to Syria for their own safety, BNA said.

Since March, protesters in cities across the country have demanded President Bashar al-Assad's ouster and democratic elections.

The United Nations estimated this month that more than 3,500 Syrians have died in the subsequent government crackdown, said Ravina Shamdasani, a spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Al-Assad's government has consistently blamed armed gangs for the violence.

Journalist Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and CNN's Saad Abedine and Rima Maktabi contributed to this report.

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