Syrians silent as Arab League deadline pass

AN Arab League deadline for Damascus to accept observers or face sanctions passed late last night with no response from Syria, as activists reported more deaths and anti-regime protests inside the country.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a 17-year-old boy was killed when security forces opened fire randomly in the eastern city of Deir Ezzor and also reported protests in other parts of the country.

Activists had urged Syrians to rally in support of the rebel Syrian Free Army whose mutinous soldiers have claimed repeated anti-regime attacks in recent days.

“Until now there has been no response from the Syrian government,” an Arab League source in Cairo told AFP after the 1pm (10pm AEDT) deadline passed.

Turkey said the Arab ultimatum was Syria’s “last chance” to heed world calls for an end to its lethal crackdown on anti-regime protests which the UN says has claimed more than 3500 lives since mid-March.

“It is a last chance, a new chance for Syria,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in Istanbul as the clock ticked down, speaking at a joint news conference with his Jordanian counterpart Nasser Judeh.

“I hope that Syria will sign this accord,” which represents “the collective will of the Arab world,” said Mr Judeh.

But Syria’s Cold War ally Russia, which last month used its UN Security Council veto to block a resolution that would have threatened “targeted measures,” dismissed the deadline.

“At this stage, what we need is not resolutions, sanctions or pressure, but inter-Syrian dialogue,” foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in Moscow.

Mr Davutoglu warned that Syria would be isolated by Turkey, Arab states and the entire international community if it rejected the Arab proposals.

Arab foreign ministers could meet tomorrow for further talks on Syria, and Turkey would attend the gathering, Mr Davutoglu said, warning of new measures against Damascus.

On Thursday, the Arab League said its finance ministers would meet today to vote on sanctions against Damascus – including the suspension of flights and freezing government assets – if Syria failed to sign.

It had invited Syria to sign an agreement in Cairo by last night’s deadline that would allow observers into the country to monitor the situation on the ground.

And for the first time, the 22-member Arab bloc on Thursday called on the UN to help resolve the crisis which has gone on unabated despite a decision earlier this month to suspend Syria from the Arab body.

Arab foreign ministers said they agreed to ask UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon “to take all measures to support the efforts of the Arab League to resolve the critical situation in Syria”.

Syrian officials and analysts said this week that Arab sanctions on Syria – which is also facing a raft of US and European punitive measures – could choke the country’s economy.

Syria depends on its Arab neighbours for half or its exports and a quarter of its imports.

“If that is to happen, it will be very unfortunate because the damage will be to all sides,” Syrian Economy Minister Mohammed Nidal al-Shaar said.

“We don’t expect all Arab countries to yield or participate in sanctions.

“In fact, we are almost certain that some Arab countries will not participate.”

Lebanon has already said it will ignore any Arab decision to impose sanctions on Syria.

Lebanon, along with Yemen, voted against a decision earlier this month to freeze Syria’s membership in the Arab League, while Iraq abstained.

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