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Thursday, April 17, 2014
Correspondents* - IPS/Al Jazeera
- Syrian activists say troops have made sweeping arrests in the flashpoint province of Hama as President Bashar al-Assad faces a growing challenge to his rule.
Thursday’s alleged raids came a day after Syrian army defectors attacked an army checkpoint, killing eight soldiers in that attack, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).
The SOHR also said that security forces shot dead a nine-year-old girl during a search operation in the town of Subkhan, in the eastern oil hub of Deir Ez-Zor.
The leader of Syria’s exiled Muslim Brotherhood said on Thursday that his compatriots would accept Turkish “intervention” in the country to resolve months of bloody unrest.
“The Syrian people would accept intervention coming from Turkey, rather than from the West, if its goal was to protect the people,” Mohammad Riad Shakfa, Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood leader, said in the Turkish city of Istanbul.
Assad is facing severe isolation stemming from his crackdown on an eight-month-old uprising, which appears to be spiraling out of his control.
The latest blow came from the Arab League, which on Wednesday suspended the country and threatened economic sanctions if the government continued to violate an Arab-brokered peace plan.
The Arab League is “giving the Syrian government three days to stop the bloody repression” of its civilian population, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, the Qatari foreign minister, said in Rabat.
“But if Damascus does not agree to co-operate with the League, sanctions will be adopted against Syria.”
Sheikh Hamad said that Arab patience with Assad’s government was running out, but that it still had time.
“I don’t want to speak about last chances so (Syria) doesn’t think it is being given an ultimatum, but we are almost at the end of the line,” he said.
Separately, Germany, Britain and France are pressing for a U.N. resolution that would strongly condemn Syria’s human rights violations.
The three European countries decided to move ahead with the General Assembly resolution after the Arab League confirmed its suspension.
“We hope it will show Assad just how isolated he is,” Germany’s U.N. Ambassador Peter Wittig said of the resolution.
Russia and China have stood by Damascus amid concerns that the downfall of Assad would be a severe blow to their interests in the Middle East.
In October, they vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution that threatened sanctions against Syria if it didn’t end its crackdown.
But on Thursday, Liu Weimin, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, appeared to suggest China might support a resolution in the future.
“It depends on whether these actions will help to resolve the tensions in Syria and facilitate the resolution of disputes through political dialogue,” he said.
Also on Thursday, Russian and European Union officials were holding talks on Syria and other issues in Moscow.
The U.N. estimates Assad’s crackdown has killed more than 3,500 people since the uprising began in March.
The growing calls for Assad’s ouster are a severe setback for the family dynasty that has ruled Syria for four decades. Any change to the leadership could transform some of the most enduring alliances in the Middle East and beyond.
Syria’s tie to Iran is among the most important relationships in the Middle East, providing the Iranians with a foothold on Israel’s border and a critical conduit to Tehran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Palestinian Hamas in Gaza.
*Published under an agreement with Al Jazeera.