Mobs Strike Embassies After Group Bans Syria

Several thousand Syrians attacked the embassies and consulates of Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and France on Saturday evening, shortly after the Arab League announced its surprising decision to suspend Syria’s membership for failing to end the bloody crackdown on antigovernment protesters.

Turkey’s evacuation, and denunciations of the attacks by other countries, set the stage for a tumultuous week in the uprising against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, which began in March.

The Arab League has invited Syrian opposition figures to Cairo on Tuesday in what seems to be a bid to close the ranks of an unwieldy group. If Syria does not relent in its crackdown, which the United Nations says has killed more than 3,500 people; the suspension will take effect on Wednesday.

The Syrian government, meanwhile, called Sunday for an urgent Arab summit meeting and invited Arab League officials to visit Damascus for talks.

“We’re going to witness a complete meltdown in the regime from here on,” said Hussein Shobokshi, a columnist with Asharq al-Awsat, a Saudi-owned Arabic newspaper. “People want a complete regime change. There is a regional desire for change, and no one in the region is willing to accommodate this regime anymore.”

Others were far more cautious, and many Western officials believe that the crisis in Syria’s economy, which has been devastated by sanctions, may prove more decisive than diplomatic pressure.

The decision by the Arab League, a body long derided in the region for its ineffectiveness and indecisiveness, dealt a severe blow to Syria’s prestige. The country has long considered itself an axis of Arab politics, and Syrian officials seemed to be torn between calling the decision illegal and dismissing the league as an instrument of Western interests.
The Thawra and Tishreen newspapers, both mouthpieces of the government, criticized the decision and suggested the organization should be renamed the “American League.”

The suspension followed the apparent collapse of a peace plan, brokered by the Arab League, under which Syria agreed to withdraw its forces from cities and towns, halt violence against protesters and enter negotiations in Cairo with the opposition. Though Syria agreed to the plan on Nov. 2, the days that followed were some of the bloodiest in the uprising, with activists saying that more than 240 people were killed across the country.

Most of the deaths were in Homs, a city in central Syria that has become a focus of the uprising.

In its declaration on Sunday, the government said the Arab League was welcome to bring in civilian and military monitors to make sure the peace plan was carried out.

There was no immediate response from the Arab League, but diplomats and Syrian opposition figures said the league appeared to have moved beyond that initiative.

In the league’s statement on Saturday, the group threatened to impose economic and political sanctions if the crackdown persisted. Some Syrian leaders are believed to have large investments in the Persian Gulf region, particularly in the United Arab Emirates, and freezing them could prove painful.

The Arab League decision was met by popular anger across Syria on Sunday, and tens of thousands of government supporters poured into the main squares of major cities, expressing their anger at Arab officials and shouting slogans in support of their embattled leader.

“We don’t care about the Arab League’s decisions,” said a man who identified himself as Ammar, a government employee in Damascus who was participating in one of the pro-government rallies. “No one can isolate Syria or throw it out of the Arab League.”

On Saturday evening, a crowd of about 1,000 protesters attacked the Turkish Embassy in Damascus, throwing stones and bottles before the Syrian police intervened, according to Turkey’s state-run Anatolian news agency.

Crowds also attacked the Turkish Consulate in Aleppo and tried to enter the grounds and lower the Turkish flag, but failed. Another group attacked the honorary Turkish Consulate in Latakia, a port on the Mediterranean Sea, breaking windows and burning flags, according to Turkish officials quoted by the agency.