Protesters carry a Syrian flag during a demonstration in Paris
Protesters carry a Syrian flag during a demonstration in Paris. A coalition of 121 Arab and international rights groups on Sunday urged the Arab League to take action on Syria to prevent it from sliding into civil war, as the organisation prepared to meet in Cairo. © Jacques Demarthon - AFP
Protesters carry a Syrian flag during a demonstration in Paris
Last updated: October 17, 2011

More than 100 rights groups urge Arab action on Syria

Arab foreign ministers on Sunday started an emergency meeting in Cairo on the crisis in Syria where the UN says more than 3,000 people have been killed in a crackdown on anti-government protests.

"We cannot remain silent on the violence," Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi said in an opening address.

Syria's delegate to the Cairo-based organisation, Yussef Ahmad, however, insisted the situation was returning to "calm and stability" and raised questions over the timing of the meeting.

"The timing is strange and suspect," Ahmad said, linking the talks to US and European attempts to pass a UN Security Council resolution against the Syrian leadership.

Qatar premier, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al-Thani, the chair of the meeting, insisted it was not convened "under any agenda but to show concern for Syria and the Syrian people. Your brothers want to help."

Gulf states requested the meeting to discuss "the situation in Syria, which has deteriorated sharply, particularly in its humanitarian dimensions, and steps that could help end the bloodshed and halt the machine of violence."

Before the opening of the talks at the Cairo-based League, several ministers met informally at a hotel with Arabi.

One diplomat who took part said the participants were divided on the means to halt the bloodshed since anti-regime protests broke out in mid-March.

Syria's possible suspension and the recognition of an opposition Syrian National Council were raised "but the majority believed it necessary to give a chance" for Arabi to encourage the implementation of rapid reforms, he said.

They also rejected any foreign intervention.

Arab foreign ministers already met in Cairo on September 13 and called on the Syrian authorities to "immediately stop the bloodshed," drawing a testy response from Damascus.

Arabi earlier met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and presented him with a 13-point document outlining Arab proposals for reform.

A coalition of 121 Arab and international rights groups, in a joint statement, on Sunday urged the League to take action to prevent Syria from sliding into civil war.

They called on the organisation to suspend Syria's membership, downgrade Arab diplomatic missions in Damascus and to back action against Damascus at the UN Security Council.

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