The Arab League has voted to suspend Syria from all meetings until Damascus ends its bloody crackdown against anti-government protesters.
Eighteen countries supported the move while Lebanon, Yemen and Syria voted against it and Iraq abstained. The suspension will come into effect on November 16, according to the Qatari Foreign Minister, Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim.
The vote came during an emergency session to discuss Syria’s failure to end a bloody government crackdown on opposition protests. Qatar's foreign minister has called on the Syrian army to stop the violence against civilians.
In turn, Syria's representative to the Arab League, Youssef Ahmed, said the decision to suspend Damascus violated the organization's charter and showed it was “serving a Western and American agenda,” reports Reuters.
Ahmed told Syrian state television that the move to suspend Syria would only have been valid if taken by consensus at a summit meeting of Arab leaders, whereas it was in fact opposed by two delegates at the Arab League meeting.
The League has also warned Syria that it could face sanctions if it fails to end the violence. However, Bin Jassim stressed that "no-one is talking about a no-fly zone – people are trying to mix up the cases. None of us is talking about this kind of decision." In February, the LAS suspended Libya’s membership and went on to propose the enforcement of a no-fly zone over the country.
Michel Chossudovsky, the Director of the Centre for Research on Globalisation, says the League’s decision comes as no surprise.
“These countries are essentially obeying orders emanating from Washington. This is not a decision of the Arab League or the Arab world. It is a decision of Washington and it is there to justify war plans directed against Syria, which are already on the drawing board of the Pentagon,” he said.
On Saturday, hundreds of people gathered in front of the Arab League headquarters in Cairo to demand that it freeze Syrian membership in order to defend civilians in the country.
Protesters carried placards reading "Freedom for the Syrian people" and "Arab leaders are garbage" as they chanted for the removal of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Later they were joined by demonstrators from Yemen protesting at a lethal government crackdown in their country.
The Syrian opposition has been calling for the League to take action against the Assad regime for some time. The suspension deals a powerful symbolic blow to a nation that prides itself on being a powerhouse of Arab nationalism.
On November 2, Syria agreed to a peace plan brokered by the LAS, but the violence has continued unabated, with November shaping up to be the deadliest month yet in Syria's 8-month-long uprising. Since signing up to the League's deal 11 days ago, more than 250 Syrian civilians have been killed amid a bloody siege of the city of Homs.
According to UN estimates, over 3,500 people have been killed in the crackdown since an uprising against the regime of President Bashar Assad began eight months ago, inspired by the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia.