Arab League approves Syrian sanctions

The Arab League has voted to impose unprecedented economic sanctions against the Syrian government, in a bid to end a bloody eight-month crackdown against an anti-government uprising.
Syrian army officers carry the coffins of army members killed in an ambush on Nov. 17. Many fear the ongoing uprising in the country could descend into civil war. (Bassem Tellawi/Associated Press)

The Arab League has voted to impose unprecedented economic sanctions against the Syrian government, in a bid to end a bloody eight-month crackdown against an anti-government uprising.

Qatari Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim said the sanctions include a freeze on assets and investments in Syria as well as a halt to dealings with the Syrian central bank.

The 22-nation bloc will also impose a travel ban on senior government officials. 

Bin Jassim said the penalties would be implemented immediately, Reuters reported.

"Make no mistake, these are very tough sanctions for a country that is already reeling from sanctions imposed by the U.S. and EU," CBC freelance contributor Dominic Valitis said.

Jordan hosts Syrian defectors

Jordan's foreign minister says 100 Syrian military and police deserters have taken refuge in the kingdom throughout the eight-month uprising in their country.

Nasser Judeh's Sunday remarks were the first official public confirmation that Jordan hosts Syrian defectors.

Judeh told The Associated Press that the Syrian soldiers and policemen, whom he claimed were conscripts rather than officers, had arrived in batches.

Many Syrians fleeing President Bashar Assad's crackdown have also sought refuge in neighbouring Turkey.

-The Associated Press

Besides punishing an already ailing economy, the measures are also a huge blow for a Syrian regime that considers itself a powerhouse of Arab nationalism.

League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby said the group will reconsider the sanctions if Syria carries out an Arab-brokered peace plan that includes sending observers to the country and pulling tanks from the streets.

The bloc had earlier said it would continue to assist Syria with emergency aid through the help of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent, working with local groups to deliver goods. 

The sanctions, which required a two-thirds majority to pass, were approved by 19 members at the group's headquarters in Cairo, Egypt.  

Damascus slammed the move as a betrayal of Arab solidarity before the vote.

Uprising could become civil war

Syria is facing mounting international pressure to end the bloody crackdown on the uprising against President Bashar Assad that the United Nations says has killed more than 3,500 people.

Since the revolt began, the regime has blamed armed gangs acting out a foreign conspiracy for the bloodshed.

Although exact figures are impossible to confirm, local activist groups said 26 people died in violence across the country on Sunday.

The European Union and the United States have already imposed several rounds of sanctions against Assad and his regime, including a ban on the import of Syrian oil.

Still, there is widely held skepticism the Arab sanctions would actually succeed in pressuring the Syrian regime to end the violence. Many fear the uprising is pushing the country toward civil war.

Until recently, most of the bloodshed was caused by security forces firing on mainly peaceful protests. But there have been growing reports of army defectors and armed civilians fighting Assad's forces, a development that some say plays into the regime's hands by giving government troops a pretext to crack down with overwhelming force.

Syria has barred foreign journalists and prevented independent reporting, making escorted trips the only official way to cover events within the country.

With files from The Associated Press