Arab League votes to suspend Syria
The Arab League has decided to suspend Syria over its violent crackdown on protesters calling for the ouster of President Bashar Assad.
Eighteen countries agreed to the suspension during a meeting in Cairo on Saturday morning, Qatar's Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim told The Associated Press.
League members will also consider implementing political and economic sanctions against Syria if it doesn't end the 8-month old bloodshed.
"We hope there will be a brave move from Syria to stop the violence and begin a real dialogue toward real reform," said bin Jassim.
The 22-member league did experience some division over the decision. Syria, Lebanon and Yemen voted against the suspension while Iraq abstained.
Syria's exclusion from the league had been endorsed by several activist groups including the New York-based Human Rights Watch.
U.S. President Barack Obama praised the Arab League's decision to suspend Syria in a statement issued Saturday.
"These significant steps expose the increasing diplomatic isolation of a regime that has systematically violated human rights and repressed peaceful protests," he said.
Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae said he also supported the suspension. In a statement issued Saturday, he called the vote a "clear message" to Assad.
Despite international condemnation, CNN correspondent Ben Wedeman said Syria still has some allies.
"You have countries like Algeria and Yemen who don't want to see yet another Arab dictator overthrown and therefore have thrown their lot behind Syria," he told CTV News Channel in a phone interview from Cairo.
Beyond the Arab states, Wedeman added that Syria also has the support of Iran and long-time ally Russia.
"Syria is not without some very important backing regionally and internationally," he said.
Decision symbolic of mounting frustration
But as gunfire continues to ring out in the Syrian city of Homs, some world leaders are growing frustrated with the regime's refusal to end its violence.
"This decision reflects a lack of foreign intervention," said Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby. "The Arab League has been calling on Syria to stop the violence for four months and it hasn't happened."
CTV's Middle East Bureau Chief said the vote to suspend Syria suggests that the Arab League is starting to lose patience with the nation.
"Nobody thought the Arab League would move to suspend Syria," Martin Seemungal told CTV News Channel on Saturday. "Suspension is something it does very rarely."
Prior to suspending Libya this year, Seemungal said the league hasn't suspended a member since 1979.
Syria's exclusion comes more than a week after the country struck a peace deal with the Arab League and agreed to end its crackdown.
The agreement had called for Syria to release political prisoners and open up a dialogue with the regime's opposition.
However, even after the deal was inked, Syrian security forces continued to fire on protesters in attacks that killed 16 people on Friday alone.
"This is a regime that is, in a sense, fighting for its life," said Wedeman. "We have seen Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Moammar Gadhafi toppled in Libya, Zine El Abidine toppled in Tunisia. They don't want to be next."
November has proved to be one of the most violent months yet in the Syrian uprising. More than 250 civilian deaths have been reported in the past 11 days alone.
The United Nations estimates around 3,500 people have been killed over the course of the eight-month crackdown.
With files from The Associated Press