Arab League censure of Syria reverberates in region
REPORTING FROM BEIRUT — The Arab League's move to suspend Syria continued to send shock waves through the region Sunday, as Turkey decided to evacuate diplomatic families from Damascus, Saudi Arabia and Qatar condemned attacks on their embassies, and the official Syrian media claimed that millions of people demonstrated in support of President Bashar Assad.
Pro-Assad crowds attacked the Turkish embassy in Damascus after Saturday’s Arab League decision. The protesters chanted anti-Turkey slogans, hurled rocks and tried to force their way into the compound, Turkey's semi-official Anatolian news agency reported. Also attacked were Turkish missions in the Syrian cities of Aleppo and Latakia.
The attacks prompted Ankara to evacuate the families of embassy personnel in Damascus, Turkish media reported.
Turkey, which shares a more than 500-mile border with Syria, is not a member of the Arab League. But Ankara has voiced strong public support for protesters in Syria who have been calling for Assad's ouster. Turkey also has provided refuge for Syrian dissidents, including army defectors operating along the border.
The Saudi Arabian and Qatari embassies in Damascus also were attacked, the Gulf Cooperation Council, a regional union, said in a statement. The council condemned the attacks and demanded that Syria bolster security measures.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar withdrew their ambassadors from Damascus months ago to protest Assad’s crackdown on activists.
Pro-Assad groups enraged at the Arab League decision also attacked French missions in Aleppo and Latakia, prompting a diplomatic condemnation from Paris. France has pushed for an international rebuke of the Syrian government.
The 22-member Arab League voted Saturday to suspend Syria's membership by Wednesday if Damascus does not move to implement the terms of a league-brokered peace pact. The league also threatened economic and political sanctions if Syria does not pull back troops and meet other demands of the Arab plan.
On Sunday, Syria, a founding member of the Arab League, called for another emergency meeting of the organization and invited Arab officials to help supervise "the implementation of the Arab initiative." Damascus seemed to soften its tone somewhat from earlier denunciations of the league's move as an illegal product of "U.S.-Western agendas."
Opposition groups demanding Assad's resignation praised the league's decision and voiced the hope it would expedite the departure of Assad, who has ruled Syria since 2000. He was elected after the death of his father, Hafez Assad, who had ruled Syria for three decades.
An estimated 3,500 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in Syria since anti-government protests began in mid-March, according to the United Nations, which blames the government's crackdown for the deaths. The Assad government maintains that terrorists are behind the violence and have killed more than 1,000 security personnel.
Anti-Assad activists reported that at least 23 more people were killed Sunday in political violence in Syria, including 18 in the central provinces of Homs and Hama. The reports could not be independently verified.
— Patrick J. McDonnell
Photo: Syria's state news agency SANA released this photo purporting to show a rally in support of President Bashar Assad on Sunday in the city of Hama. Credit: SANA