02:37 - Source: CNN
Arab League sanctions punish Syria

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.

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  — 

Arab League finance ministers recommended Saturday that economic sanctions be levied against the Syrian government for its part in a bloody, months-long crackdown on civilian demonstrators, a senior Arab League official told CNN.

“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.

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.

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.

State-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) 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 – which were opposed by Algeria and Iraq – include barring any private or commercial airlines from the league’s 22 member states from flying into or out of Syria.

The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office praised Sunday’s “unprecedented” vote.

Pictures on SANA’s website on Saturday showed people packed in the city of Lattakia, reportedly to decry “the Arab League decisions and foreign interference in the Syrian internal affairs.”

“Syria has to make a decision,” he said in Istanbul alongside his Italian counterpart, Giulio Terzi. “It will either continue this crackdown policy against its people and become isolated more and more, or it will say yes to this well-intentioned Arab League proposal, sign this protocol and observers will monitor the situation on the ground by going to all Syrian cities.”

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,” that report said.

“The families of the martyrs expressed pride in their son’s martyrdom, … stressing that Syria will remain steadfast in the face of the conspiracy which targets its unity and stability. They said that the Syrian people will overcome this ordeal through national unity, and that the blood of the martyrs will protect Syria and make it stronger in the face of challenges.”

CNN cannot independently verify reports from either side, since Syria’s government has limited 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 earlier 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.

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.