Syria mum as Arab League’s deadline expires

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An Arab League deadline for Damascus to accept observers or face sanctions passed Friday with no response from Syria, as activists reported more deaths and anti-regime protests inside the country. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a 17-year-old boy was killed when security forces opened fire randomly in the eastern city of Deir Ezzor and also reported protests in other parts of the country. Activists had urged Syrians to rally in support of the rebel Syrian Free Army whose mutinous soldiers have claimed repeated anti-regime attacks in recent days.
“Until now there has been no response from the Syrian government,” an Arab League source in Cairo said, after the 1100 GMT deadline passed. Turkey said the Arab ultimatum was Syria’s “last chance” to heed world calls for an end to its lethal crackdown on anti-regime protests which the UN says has claimed more than 3,500 lives since mid-March. “It is a last chance, a new chance for Syria,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters in Istanbul as the clock ticked down, speaking at a joint news conference with his Jordanian counterpart Nasser Judeh. “I hope that Syria will sign this accord,” which represents “the collective will of the Arab world,” said Judeh.
But Syria’s Cold War ally Russia, which last month used its UN Security Council veto to block a resolution that would have threatened “targeted measures,” dismissed the deadline.
“At this stage, what we need is not resolutions, sanctions or pressure, but inter-Syrian dialogue,” foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in Moscow.
Davutoglu warned that Syria would be isolated by Turkey, Arab states and the entire international community if it rejected the Arab proposals.
Arab foreign ministers could meet on Sunday for further talks on Syria, and Turkey would attend the gathering, Davutoglu said, warning of new measures against Damascus.
On Thursday, the Arab League said its finance ministers would meet on Saturday to vote on sanctions against Damascus — including the suspension of flights and freezing government assets — if Syria failed to sign.
It had invited Syria to sign an agreement in Cairo by Friday’s deadline that would allow observers into the country to monitor the situation on the ground.
And for the first time, the 22-member Arab bloc on Thursday called on the United Nations to help resolve the crisis which has gone on unabated despite a decision earlier this month to suspend Syria from the Arab body.
Arab foreign ministers said they agreed to ask UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon “to take all measures to support the efforts of the Arab League to resolve the critical situation in Syria.”
Syrian officials and analysts said this week that Arab sanctions on Syria — which is also facing a raft of US and European punitive measures — could choke the country’s economy.
Lebanon has already said it will ignore any Arab decision to impose sanctions on Syria.
“I don’t think that Iraq will take part in sanctions against Syria,” a government official with close ties to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said earlier this week.
A day after violence across Syria saw the death toll shoot over 51, activists called for fresh protests after the main weekly Muslim prayers in support of dissident army officers.
“The free army protects us,” said a message on the Facebook page of the Syrian Revolution 2011.
Rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) head Colonel Riyadh al-Asaad, on Thursday called for foreign air strikes on “strategic targets” to speed up the fall of the regime.
“We are not in favour of the entry of foreign troops as was the case in Iraq but we want the international community to give us logistical support,” he said from Turkey, where the rebel army, which claims it has 20,000 fighters under its command, is based.

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