Arab League confirms Syria's suspension
Syrian defectors claim attacks on army posts
Foreign ministers from the 22-member Arab League have confirmed Syria's suspension from the organization because of its bloody suppression of anti-government protests.
The foreign ministers also gave the Syrian government three days to respond to an Arab peace plan that involves sending an Arab League delegation to monitor compliance.
The ministers announced their decisions in a statement after an emergency meeting Wednesday in Rabat, Morocco.
The suspension — first announced Saturday and upheld during the meeting — is a surprisingly harsh and highly unusual move for a member of Syria's standing.
"What has happened in Syria is very sad for all of us, we cannot accept that people are being killed in the way they are now. We are moving to stop the flow of blood," said Qatari Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim, whose country has taken the lead in isolating Syria. "The Syrian government must apply the Arab League plan."
Even Turkey, which once had close ties with Syria, has expressed increasing concern over the situation across the border. "We denounce the mass murder of the Syrian people," said Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who was in Morocco for a meeting on Arab-Turkish ties. "It is all of our responsibility to end the bloodshed in Syria."
The suspension decision has enraged Syria, which considers itself a bastion of Arab nationalism. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mouallem boycotted the meeting.
Damascus fears the United States and its allies might use the rare Arab consensus to press for tougher sanctions at the United Nations. Veto-wielding Russia and China have so far opposed efforts at the UN Security Council to impose sanctions on Syria — a stance that could become harder to maintain in the face of the Arab stance.
Canada cautious about intervention
Canada's Defence Minister Peter MacKay spoke cautiously Wednesday about the prospect of international intervention in Syria. Any mission would need "further contemplation" and possibly a Security Council resolution "to mirror the path that we followed" on Libya.
"There's a number of things that would have to happen. It is a much more complex situation in many ways, given the circumstances on the ground in Syria," he said, noting it's likely to be discussed at an international security forum in Halifax this weekend.
France's ambassador to Syria said Wednesday the government in Paris ordered him home in the wake of recent attacks against diplomatic missions and the crackdown by the Assad regime.
Ambassador Eric Chevallier said by phone he "was aware" that he had been ordered back but declined to provide details. He deferred all questions about the reasons to the Foreign Ministry.
Army defectors claim attacks near Damascus
On the ground in Syria, army defectors say they have launched several attacks on President Bashar Assad's military bases near Damascus, including one on an intelligence facility — the latest in stepped-up assaults by the renegade troops targeting the regime's forces.
The Free Syrian Army said in a statement that its main attack in the early hours Wednesday targeted a compound run by the Air Force Intelligence in the Damascus suburb of Harasta.
The renegade group said the other attacks targeted military checkpoints in the Damascus suburbs of Douma, Qaboun and Arabeen and Saqba. The defectors say they killed at least eight soldiers and security forces.
The claim of the attacks could not be independently confirmed.
The Syrian government has largely sealed off the country, barring most foreign journalists and preventing independent reporting. But details gathered by activist groups and witnesses, along with the amateur videos, have become key channels of information.
The attacks near Damascus are rare, and clashes between defectors and troops have in the past been concentrated in the northwestern province of Idlib and central region of Homs and the southern province of Daraa.
The attacks come two days after defectors killed 34 of Assad's soldiers and members of the security in Daraa, on what was one of the bloodiest days of the eight-month-old uprising.
The United Nations says that more than 3,500 people have been killed since Assad launched a crackdown on the protesters in mid-March.
A Syrian opposition figure said the attack in Harasta was carried out by defectors who broke into three groups and attacked the compound from three sides with automatic rifles and rocket-propelled-grenades. He added that the administrative building was damaged and the attackers made sure not to hit a nearby building where detainees were being held.
The opposition figure, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss military operations, said all the defectors' troops returned safely to their point of origin. He quoted residents in the area as saying that ambulances rushed to the military compound after the attack.