Syria receives Arab League chief under Qatari pressure

Arab League chief Nabil al-Araby will visit Syria on Saturday after a Qatari threat to launch a diplomatic campaign to further isolate the regime of Bashar al-Assad, Arab diplomats said on Wednesday.

On Wednesday, the Syrian government postponed Araby's trip at the 11th hour "due to circumstances beyond our control."

“Qatar threatened that it will ask Arab foreign ministers to discuss a plan to ostracize the Assad regime following its six-month-long brutal crackdown on pro-democracy activists,” an Arab diplomat told Al-Masry Al-Youm on condition of anonymity.

The diplomat added that the Qatari envoy to the Arab League warned that his government would introduce a proposal to the Arab foreign ministers’ meeting in Cairo to impose sanctions on Syria. The meeting is to be convened on 13 September.  

Another Arab diplomat said that the Qatari message was that Doha “will take the matter to the UN Security Council to protect Syrian civilians if it kept procrastinating over the League’s efforts.”

After delivering the Qatari message, the diplomat added, Damascus agreed to receive al-Araby.        

Earlier Wednesday, the Arab League announced that Araby will visit Damascus on Saturday without explaining why the Syrian government has cancelled the trip on such short notice.   

"It was decided that the Arab League secretary general will visit Syria on Saturday during a telephone conversation between [Araby], Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem and Syria's envoy at the League," the group's deputy leader, Ahmed Ben Helli, told reporters in Cairo.

Araby has been commissioned by the 22-member bloc to travel to Damascus with a 13-point document outlining proposals to end the bloody crackdown on dissent and push Syria to launch reforms.

According to a copy of the document, Araby is to propose that Assad hold elections in three years, a move towards a pluralistic government, and immediately halt the crackdown.

The initiative, agreed by Arab foreign ministers last month, angered Syria, which said it contained "unacceptable and biased language."

The Cairo-based organization was instrumental in passing a UN resolution in March calling for the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya, allowing NATO to carry out strikes against the regime of Muammar Qadhafi, which now appear to have toppled his government.

Arab support could help in efforts to isolate the Assad regime and give political support to Syrian protesters and the opposition movements.

But Arab leaders have been divided over Syria, with many countries fearing increased uncertainty over its future. Others fear that foreign intervention could make a bad situation even worse and spark further violence.

Protests across Syria began in March calling for more freedoms, political reforms and the ouster of Assad. More than 2200 people have been killed since the protests began.

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