As the crisis in Syria continued to intensify on Friday and more protesters were reported killed, a deadline set by the Arab League to allow observers to monitor the situation passed with no response from Damascus, the BBC reported late Friday.[1]  --  Arab League sanctions could take the form of "a suspension of commercial flights to Syria and a halt to all dealings with its central bank.  Damascus depends on its Arab neighbors for half of its exports and a quarter of its imports."  --  The New York Times said that "The new sanctions would deal a severe blow to an economy already suffering under sanctions from the European Union and the United States.  Syria’s two most vital sectors, oil and tourism, which account for more than a third of the government’s revenues, have all but come to a halt."[2]  --  Turkey is promising to "harmonize" its measures against Syria with those of the Arab League, Nada Bakri said.  --  On Friday Turkey's foreign minister said "that Syria’s silence as the deadline passed indicated that it was trying to conceal a worrisome humanitarian situation.  'Syria was expected to say yes to the observers,' Mr. Davutoglu was quoted as saying.  'Unless there is a reality it hides about the situation.'"  --  The Christian Science Monitor noted that Syria is a founding member of the Arab League [in 1945] and that "Arab League action against a member state is rare."[3] ...



Middle East


November 25, 2011

An Arab League deadline for Syria to allow an observer mission or face sanctions has passed with no response from Damascus to the ultimatum.

The deadline was set for 11:00 GMT [3:00 a.m. PST].  Earlier, the league warned it would meet on Saturday to discuss sanctions.

The league wants 500 observers to enter Syria to monitor the situation amid continuing protests, but Damascus has reportedly agreed to let in only 40.

Meanwhile, new evidence has emerged of protests turning into armed insurgency.

The BBC's Paul Wood, who travelled without permission to Syria's flashpoint city of Homs, reports that he saw a small but steady stream of defectors from the official security forces.

At least 11 people have been killed in the latest violence on Friday, say activists.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, based in the U.K., says the deaths occurred in Homs, Damascus, Deir el-Zour, and in the southern province of Deraa.

Other activists -- from the Local Co-ordination Committees based in Syria -- say as many as 26 people have been killed.


A United Nations human rights panel has expressed alarm at reports it received of security forces in Syria torturing children.

The Geneva-based U.N. Committee against Torture says it has received "numerous, consistent, and substantiated reports" of widespread abuse in the country.

"Of particular concern are reports referring to children who have suffered torture and mutilation while detained," said the panel's chairman, Claudio Grossman.

He also cited reports of "extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions; arbitrary detention by police forces and the military; and enforced and involuntary disappearances."

The committee said the Syrian authorities had been acting with total impunity while committing what it called "gross and pervasive" human rights violations.

The panel normally reviews each country's record every four years, but took the unusual step Friday of issuing a spontaneous demand to the Syrian government to explain its actions.

More than 3,500 people have died since protests against the Syrian government began in March, the U.N. estimates.

The government of President Bashar al-Assad blames the violence on armed gangs and militants.


Syrian state television has also blamed militants for an attack on Thursday in which it said six elite military pilots were killed.

"An armed terrorist group undertook an evil assassination plot that martyred six pilots, a technical officer, and three other personnel on an air force base between Homs and Palmyra," a military spokesman was quoted as saying.

Reports on Thursday suggested that military defectors from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) had said they carried out the attack, but an FSA spokesman later denied responsibility in a BBC interview.

The spokesman, Maher Al-Rahmoun al-Naaimi, said the claim had actually been posted on a fake Facebook page set up in the group's name by Syrian intelligence.

Reports from Syria are difficult to verify as foreign journalists are unable to move around the country freely.


The Arab League set the deadline for Syria to sign the observer deal -- which is a part of a broader peace plan -- at a meeting in Cairo on Thursday.

An unnamed Arab source told Reuters news agency that Mr. Assad's government would be given until the end of the day to answer.

Earlier this month, the league voted to suspend Syria and warned of unspecified sanctions for not implementing the peace plan.

One of the main sticking points was Damascus' demand to amend the proposal for the 500 observers to be allowed in to Syria.

The Syrian government reportedly wanted to reduce the number to 40 -- a request rejected by the 22-member league.

An earlier deadline for Syria to end its crackdown passed last Saturday night with no sign of the violence abating.

The options for sanctions include a suspension of commercial flights to Syria and a halt to all dealings with its central bank.

Damascus depends on its Arab neighbors for half of its exports and a quarter of its imports, according to news agency AFP.

In Cairo, diplomats also appealed to the U.N. to prevent further violence, asking the world body "to take all measures to support the efforts of the Arab League to resolve the critical situation in Syria".

On Friday, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu described the league's deadline as the "last chance" for the Syrian government.

However, Russia again voiced its opposition to the outside pressure, calling for talks between Damascus and the opposition.

France earlier suggested that some sort of humanitarian protection zones be created inside Syria, the BBC's Jon Leyne in Cairo reports.

It is the first hint that international military intervention is under consideration, our correspondent adds.


Meanwhile, the BBC's correspondent Paul Wood and cameraman Fred Scott have obtained first-hand evidence that the struggle for democracy in Syria is becoming an armed insurgency.

The BBC saw supporters of the opposition Free Syria Army group bringing in guns from Lebanon on old smuggling routes.

Our correspondent says he witnessed casualties coming out the same way in the area which is mined and full of Syrian patrols, but not completely sealed.

Once inside Syria, he saw a steady stream of defectors and exchanges of fire when their former comrades tried to stop them, our correspondent says.

A group of five defectors told the BBC that they had decided to change sides after being ordered to fire on pro-democracy protesters in Homs.

Almost from the beginning, it has been the Syrian government's stance that armed groups are supporting the opposition.

Now that myth of an armed insurgency is becoming reality, our correspondent adds.

Earlier, the head of the FSA, Riyad al-Asad, told the BBC that President Assad was now "finished."

Speaking from a refugee camp in Turkey, he said:  "Even if the outside world doesn't help us or stand with us, the Syrian nation is determined to bring down this dictator."

"The system is rotten to the core.  It looks strong, perhaps, on the outside but it is weak at the heart," the former colonel in the air force added.

The FSA was formed in August 2011 by army deserters.

[INSET:  SYRIA'S TOP TRADE PARTNERS.  1. E.U. 6,784.5m euros, 22.5%.  2. Iraq, 13.3%.  3. Saudia Arabia, 9%.  4. China, 6.9%.  5. Turkey, 6.6%.  6. Lebanon, 6.1%. . . . 12. U.S., 2.4%.]

[INSET: E.U. TRADE WITH SYRIA.  IMPORTS FROM SYRIA/EXPORTS TO SYRIA.  Fuel products, 88.6%/18.9%.  Crude materials, 4.1%/3.5%.  Manufactured goods, 2.9%/13.0%.  Misc. manufactured goods, 1.0%/5.1%.  Machinery & transport, 0.9%/34.6%.  Food & animals, 0.9%/7.1%.  Chemicals etc., 0.5%/14.4%.  Commodities & transactions, 0.1%/0.6%.  Beverages & tobacco, 0.1%/2.3%.  Animals & veg. oils, fats, 0%/0.2%.  Source: European Commission.]


Middle East


By Nada Bakri

New York Times

November 26, 2011 (posted Nov. 25)

BEIRUT, Lebanon -- Syria on Friday ignored an Arab League deadline to accept observers to oversee a peace deal to end more than eight months of bloodshed, with activists saying that several protesters and soldiers were killed during clashes across the country.

Arab League officials said Thursday that if the government of President Bashar al-Assad failed to agree by Friday to sign a protocol detailing the mission of the observers, Arab finance ministers would meet Saturday in Cairo to discuss imposing sanctions that could include halting flights to Syria, curbing trade, and stopping transactions with the country’s central bank.

The new sanctions would deal a severe blow to an economy already suffering under sanctions from the European Union and the United States.  Syria’s two most vital sectors, oil and tourism, which account for more than a third of the government’s revenues, have all but come to a halt.

Turkey announced Friday that its foreign minister would hold talks with foreign ministers from Arab nations in Cairo on Sunday to discuss Syria’s failure to admit several hundred military and civilian observers.  The monitors’ mission was to examine the humanitarian situation in Syria and the execution of an Arab League peace proposal that Damascus agreed to on Nov. 2.

The Anatolia news agency quoted the Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, as saying that Turkey already had some measures in hand against Damascus.  “We are going to harmonize them with those prepared by the Arab League,” Mr. Davutoglu was quoted as saying.

Earlier on Friday, Mr. Davutoglu said that Syria’s silence as the deadline passed indicated that it was trying to conceal a worrisome humanitarian situation.  “Syria was expected to say yes to the observers,” Mr. Davutoglu was quoted as saying. “Unless there is a reality it hides about the situation.”

Mr. Davutoglu’s comments came as the United Nations voiced concerns on Friday about reports of executions and torture of civilians, including children.

The United Nations Committee against Torture described “rife or systematic attacks” against civilians, “including the killing of peaceful demonstrators,” adding that it was particularly concerned about reports of children being tortured and mutilated during detention.  It described Syria’s actions as “gross and pervasive” human rights violations.

The statement came ahead of a highly anticipated report to be released Monday by an independent commission of inquiry, sponsored by the United Nations, investigating accusations that Syrian armed forces committed crimes against humanity.

The United Nations says that at least 3,500 people have been killed since mid-March in the government’s crackdown.

On Friday, at least 16 more people were killed across the country when security forces opened fire at demonstrations, activists said.  A majority were in Homs, a city in central Syria that has witnessed some of the largest protests against Mr. Assad.

“We will not give up,” said Abu Kinan, a shop owner and protester from the Midan neighborhood in Damascus.  “When the Arab League imposes its sanctions, the Syrian economy will collapse, and then the business class and the middle class will join the protests to change the regime.”

The business class and the elite have so far remained largely on the sidelines of the uprising.

The Syrian military also said that 10 of its personnel were killed on Thursday, including six pilots, in an attack on their air force base southwest of Homs.

A military spokesman said, “This confirms the involvement of foreign elements and their support of these terrorist operations in an effort to weaken the fighting capabilities of our forces.”

--Hwaida Saad and an employee of The New York Times contributed reporting.


Terrorism & security


By Dan Murphy

** Syria refused to allow Arab League monitors, designed to tamp down regime attacks on protesters, into the country.  Sanctions could follow. **

Christian Science Monitor

November 25, 2011

Sanctions on Syria may be about to get a little tighter.

On Thursday, the Arab League gave Syria a 24-hour deadline to allow observers into the country as a hopeful check on President Bashar al-Assad's bloody crackdown on anti-regime demonstrators.  That deadline came and went today, and now the Arab League is scheduled to consider further sanctions on Syria -- a founding member of the group -- tomorrow.

Syria has remained defiant as the Arab League, powerful neighbor Turkey, much of Europe, and the U.S. have moved to isolate the regime.  The AP reports that Syrian government news agency SANA called the Arab League a "tool for foreign interference."

Turkey, which appears to be tolerating camps of armed defectors from Assad's regime on the border, warned the country today that the clock is ticking.

CNN reports that Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said "Syria has to make a decision . . . 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."

Arab League action against a member state is rare.  But with the Arab democracy uprisings of the past year, the regional context has shifted immensely.  What's more, evidence is mounting of a horrific toll from state violence in Syria.

Reuters reports the U.N. Committee against Torture is finding evidence of widespread, systematic abuse in Syria.  "More than 3,500 people have been killed since March, according to the United Nations, and activists say that more than 30,000 have been arrested, including families of dissidents.

"The U.N. committee said reports of children suffering torture and mutilation during detention were of particular concern, and that Syrian authorities had been acting with total impunity in what it called 'gross and pervasive' human rights violations.'"

To be sure, there isn't a great deal of urgency in that committee; it asked Syria to send a report in March detailing the country's efforts to end torture.

Turkey is taking the situation a little more seriously.  Beirut's Daily Star reports the country is considering tougher action:  "Turkey has ratcheted up the its criticism of Assad since its diplomatic missions came under attack by pro-government demonstrators in several Syrian cities earlier this month.  Tensions were heightened further on Monday when two busloads of Turkish pilgrims travelling through Syria on their way back from the hajj in Mecca were attacked by Syrian gunmen.

"Turkey, which is already sheltering about 7,000 Syrian opposition activists who fled their home, is however mulling plans for a buffer or no-fly zone on its border with Syria.  Among those on Syrian soil is Riyadh al-Asaad, who defected from the Syrian army and is now leading a group of deserters in the rebel Free Syrian Army."