(MENAFN - Gulf Times) The Arab League suspended Syria and called on its army to stop killing civilians in a surprise move yesterday that some Western leaders said should prompt tougher international action against President Bashar al-Assad.
US President Barack Obama praised the League's decision and France said it was time for international bodies to take more action.
The Arab League will impose economic and political sanctions on Syria's government and has appealed to member states to withdraw their ambassadors, said Qatar's Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, HE Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabor al-Thani. It will also call a meeting of Syrian opposition parties, he said.
"We were criticised for taking a long time but this was out of our concern for Syria," Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim told reporters at the League's headquarters in Cairo. "We needed to have a majority to approve those decisions."
Syria's representative at the Arab League said the decision was "not worth the ink it was written with".
Syria blames armed groups for the violence and says 1,200 members of the security forces have been killed. Assad has said he has used legitimate means to confront a foreign conspiracy to sow sectarian strife.
Activists said six people were killed in Syria yesterday.
"We are calling all Syrian opposition parties to a meeting at the Arab League headquarters to agree a unified vision for the transitional period," said Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim. Qatar chairs the Arab League.
He said the suspension of Syria from the regional body would take effect on November 16, but did not detail the sanctions.
"We ask the Arab Syrian Army to not be involved in the violent actions and killing of civilians," Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim said, quoting from an Arab League statement.
Syria's Arab League representative, Youssef Ahmed, said suspending Damascus violated the League's charter because it could only be done by consensus at a summit of Arab leaders.
Some 18 countries voted in favour of the Arab League decision. Two countries objected: Yemen and Lebanon. Iraq abstained from voting
Assad's opponents hailed the League's new resolve.
"This gives a lot of strength to the position of the Syrian National Council. This is now an Arab position," said Basma Qadmani, a member of the executive committee of the Syrian National Council, the most prominent opposition group.
Qadmani said that now that the Arab League had taken its decision "we believe there is no justification for international reluctance" to take tougher steps against Assad's government.
Obama praised the Arab League and said he would continue to pile pressure on the Syrian leadership.
"These significant steps expose the increasing diplomatic isolation of a regime that has systematically violated human rights and repressed peaceful protests," he said in a statement.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said the League's decision sent an important signal to those in the UN Security Council who had up to now
prevented a clear resolution on Syria.
"We will urge this to be seen as a chance for a change of heart," he said.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said it was time for international bodies to take more action.
"France appeals to the international community to hear the message sent by the Arab states, to take its responsibilities and to thus act without further delay," he said in a statement.
Freezing Syria out of the 22-member League of Arab States carries extra symbolism in the wake of events in Libya, where Muammar Gaddafi was ousted and killed in a rebellion that benefited from Nato air support. The Nato mission got UN Security Council approval after Libya was suspended by the Arab League.
Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim held out the possibility that the League may ask the UN to help protect the rights of Syrians.
"If the violence and killing doesn't stop, the secretary general will call on international organisations dealing with human rights, including the UN," he said.
Since the Arab peace deal, Syrian security forces have killed more than 100 people in Homs, Human Rights Watch said on Friday.