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Arab League Gives Syria Three Days To End Crackdown, Threatens Sanctions

Antiregime protesters gather in Hula, near Homs, on November 13.

Antiregime protesters gather in Hula, near Homs, on November 13.

Foreign ministers from the Arab League have given the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad three days to end its deadly crackdown on anti-government protesters and allow observers in to monitor compliance.

The League threatened to implement financial sanctions against the regime if it does not cooperate.

The ultimatum was announced on November 16 at an emergency meeting in Rabat, Morocco, that was also attended by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani told a press conference after the meeting that Arab countries' patience with the Syrian regime was quickly running out.

He warned, "We are coming near the end of Arab diplomacy for Syria."

"We cannot accept that people could be killed the way it is happening in Syria without intervening to stop the bloodshed and to avoid more violence, more violence and more killings. This is why we took a difficult decision for all of us because we are responsible for preserving the blood of our brothers in Syria," he said.

Al-Thani was also quoted as saying that if Damascus does not cooperate, sanctions will be adopted.

The League reportedly today asked its experts to draft a plan for imposing economic penalties on Syria with the goal of pressuring the regime to end its violent crackdown.

The 22-member bloc also called for "prompt measures" to protect civilians in Syria and said they oppose "all foreign intervention."

The Arab League voted on November 12 to suspend Syria's membership after it failed to honor the terms of a peace plan which would see the government withdrawing tanks from restive cities and stopping attacks on protesters. The plan also mandated Damascus to open a dialogue with the opposition within two weeks.

The suspension was to take effect today, and Syrian officials did not attend the meeting.

Damascus had earlier called the move "an extremely dangerous step" prompted by U.S. "incitement."

Washington welcomed the suspension, while Moscow called it "incorrect."

In another sign of Syria's increased isolation on the International scene, France and Morocco both withdrew their ambassadors to the country today.

"New violence is taking place and that has led to the closure of the missions in Aleppo and Latakia and to recall our ambassador to Paris," said French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe.

Juppe was referring to attacks over the weekend on French diplomatic premises, as well as on the Saudi and Turkish missions in Syria.

The Damascus embassies of Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar were reportedly also attacked today by regime loyalists.

Juppe said Paris was working with the Arab League to draft a UN resolution condemning the violence. Russia and China vetoed a similar UN Security Council resolution last month.

Speaking in Ankara, Turkish President Abdullah Gul warned of consequences if the embassy attacks continued.

"It is not possible to accept these attacks against our presence in Syria, on our citizens, embassy, diplomats and diplomatic missions. We have vehemently condemned this attack. If they do not take the necessary measures and this happens again, our reaction will be different," he said.

Meanwhile, reports said Syrian army defectors attacked an intelligence headquarters near the capital, killing at least six members of the security forces.

Activists said army defectors also killed eight soldiers and wounded dozens in an attack on a security checkpoint in the province of Hama.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters that the use of violence by the Syrian opposition "plays into Assad's and his regime's hands."

"[The Syrian opposition movement] was a peaceful movement from its inception and it's only because of the regime's repeated brutal campaign of violence against innocent protesters that we've seen the country move down this very dangerous path," he said.

Meanwhile, security forces reportedly killed 13 civilians in Homs, Idlib, and Damascus.

According to figures released by the United Nations, security forces have killed more than 3,500 opposition protesters and others since the Syrian uprising began in March.

compiled from agency reports