People demonstrate in support of President Bashar al-Assad in central Damascus today
Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo on Saturday are to warn Syria they will no longer remain silent on its deadly crackdown on dissent, an Arab diplomat said. © Joseph Eid - AFP
People demonstrate in support of President Bashar al-Assad in central Damascus today
AFP
Last updated: August 29, 2011

Arab Foreign Ministers to ratchet pressure on Syria

Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo on Saturday are to warn Syria they will no longer remain silent on its deadly crackdown on dissent, an Arab diplomat said.

The meeting, being held in the absence of Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, was to move first to re-admit Libya in the presence of the rebel government's prime minister Mahmud Jibril, who was in Cairo.

The 22-member pan-Arab organisation suspended Libya in February, after Libyan strongman Moamer Kadhafi ordered a bloody crackdown on protesters. It followed up with a call for a no-fly zone that helped lead to NATO airstrikes.

But the Arab League is not considering a similar move against Asad's government, which is clinging to power five months into a nationwide uprising that has left more than 2,000 dead, the diplomat said.

"This is not on the table," he said, asked if the League might suspend Syria.

He said Arab governments agreed ahead of the meeting, scheduled to start at the Arab League's headquarters at 1900 GMT, to pressure Syria for an immediate end to military operations against protesters.

The diplomat, who requested anonymity, said they also agreed to "send a message to the Syrian leader informing him that Arab silence on what is taking place in Syria is no longer acceptable."

The foreign ministers were to weigh whether to send a ministerial delegation to Assad, he said.

Saturday's meeting was the first gathering of Arab foreign ministers to discuss the unrest in Syria.

US President Barack Obama has called on Assad to step down but Russia, a historical ally of Syria's that wields a UN Security Council veto, says he needs time to enact promised reforms.

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