Damascus freezes Arab states’ assets

Syria hits back at Arab League’s Nov 27 sanctions by freezing their assets, as a UN commission reports ‘crimes against humanity’ committed by Assad forces

The Arab League’s newly approved sanctions against Damascus amount to “a declaration of economic war,” Syria’s foreign minister said yesterday, betraying deep concern about the effects of the measures on the embattled regime.

But in a clear sign of defiance, Foreign Minister Walid Muallem insisted that the Syrian people will be the ones to suffer and the regime will survive.

“Let them study the history of Syria very well,” Muallem told reporters at a televised news conference. “Neither warnings nor sanctions will work with us.” In an unprecedented move against a fellow Arab state, the 22-member Arab League approved sanctions Nov. 27 to pressure the regime to end its suppression of an eight-month-old revolt. Muallem said that Damascus had already taken steps to counter the punitive measures. “I reassure you that we have withdrawn 95 or 96 percent of Syrian assets (from Arab countries),” Muallem told reporters. “We must protect the interests of our people.”

Damascus’ response is that Syria is the victim of a foreign-supported insurgency by armed gangs. In an attempt to bolster that contention, Muallem showed reporters videos of charred and bloodied corpses.

“I’m sorry for these gruesome pictures, but they are a gift to the members of the Arab League who still deny the presence of these armed gangs,” he said.

Tens of thousands of government supporters flocked to main squares yesterday in almost all cities, including the capital Damascus, to denounce the Arab League decision. State TV quoted demonstrators as saying that the sanctions target all segments of the population.

Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby said the bloc will reconsider the sanctions if Syria carries out an Arab-brokered plan that calls for pulling tanks from the streets and ending violence against civilians.

Syria plans to drop a constitutional clause which designates Assad’s Baath Party as the leading party, Muallem said.

 Moualem said he was told by the head of a committee tasked with reforming Syria’s constitution that the revised version “includes multi-party (politics), and there is no place for discrimination between parties, meaning there is no Article Eight.”

The EU will tighten sanctions against Syria’s oil and financial sectors this week, diplomats said yesterday. EU foreign ministers meeting Dec. 1 will adopt a raft of sanctions including bans on exporting gas and oil industry equipment to Syria, trading Syrian government bonds and selling software that could be used to monitor Internet and telephone communications, a European diplomat said. European governments will also be barred from providing concessional loans to Syria -- credit at lower rates and longer grace periods than what is offered by the markets. The goal of the new sanctions is to “cut the regime’s access to money,” the European diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

Russia is sending a flotilla of warships to its naval base in Syria in a show of force which suggests Moscow is willing to defend its interests in the strife-torn country as international pressure mounts on President Bashar al-Assad’s government.

Compiled from AP,AFP and Reuters stories by the Daily News Staff.