DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Syria’s foreign minister accused Arab states on Monday of conspiring against Damascus after the Arab League voted to suspend Syria’s membership over the government’s deadly crackdown on an eight month-old uprising.
Walid al-Moallem said Saturday’s near-unanimous vote at the Arab League’s headquarters in Cairo was an illegitimate decision prompted by American incitement.
The vote was a stinging rebuke to a regime that prides itself as a bastion of Arab nationalism and left Syria increasingly isolated over a crackdown that the U.N. estimates has killed more than 3,500 people since mid-March.
"We wanted the role of the Arab League to be a supporting role but if the Arabs wanted to be conspirators, this is their business," he told a press conference in Damascus that betrayed his country’s deep alarm over the decision.
The vote to suspend Syria put Damascus in direct confrontation with other Arab powers, including Qatar and Saudi Arabia, who were pushing for the suspension. The vote constituted a major boost for the Syrian opposition.
Syrian President Bashar Assad asserts that extremists pushing a foreign agenda to destabilize Syria are behind the country’s unrest, rather than true reform-seekers aiming to open the country’s autocratic political system.
Syria had earlier called for an emergency Arab summit to discuss the country’s spiraling political unrest. But critics say that is another possible bid by Assad to buy time as he faces snowballing punitive action.
In a thinly veiled warning, the government said it was calling for the meeting "because the fallout from the Syrian crisis could harm regional security" — an apparent effort to play on fears that Assad’s ouster would spread chaos around the Middle East.
But in a significant concession, Syria also invited Arab League officials to visit before the membership suspension is scheduled to take effect on Wednesday, and said they could bring any civilian or military observers they deem appropriate to oversee implementation of an Arab League plan for ending the bloodshed.
The Syrian government is usually loath to accept anything resembling foreign intervention, and the invitation signaled the government’s concern over the Arab action.
The crisis has raised regional tensions, with Turkey sending a plane to evacuate nonessential personnel after Saturday attacks on several embassies including Ankara’s by Syrian government supporters angry over the Arab League decision.
Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Monday that his country would take a "decisive attitude" in the face of attacks on its missions in Syria, and will continue his country’s policy of supporting the Syrian opposition.
Turkey also formally protested the attacks and issued a warning against traveling to Syria.