As Arabs snub Syria, only Russia pledges support
King of Jordan becomes first Arab leader to call for Assad to stand down as former allies desert Damascus regime
Having suspended Syria in response to the Assad regime's failure to end the violent crackdown on protesters, the Arab League is sending 500 monitors into the country to get a more accurate picture of the level of violence.
Members of the League have been asked to withdraw their ambassadors from Syria and, in a further blow to President Assad, opposition groups have been invited to the League's meetings.
King Abdullah of Jordan has become the first Arab leader to openly demand that Assad stand down.
The decision to suspend Syria has been welcomed by the US and UK, and for the first time China has spoken out against its longstanding ally by insisting that the regime must implement the Arab League peace plan.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
The Arab world has joined the international consensus that Assad must be forced, rather than persuaded, to end the violence against opposition groups, doubtless influenced by one of the bloodiest phases of the uprising. "More than 250 Syrian civilians have been killed in the past 11 days", The Guardian reported on Saturday.
The new level of isolation will be a "huge blow to the self-esteem of President Assad and his ruling circle", the BBC reported, particularly for the legitimacy it gives the opposition.
But while the coalition against Assad gathers momentum, Russia is voicing dissent. Having vetoed a Security Council condemnation of the regime last month [along with China], Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attacked the Arab League vote today. He warned against the "incitement of radical opponents" and pledged to maintain trade, including arms, with the regime.
Assad's supporters have reacted defiantly, attacking the Saudi Arabian and Turkish embassies in Damascus, in retribution against former allies now pushing for sanctions. Relations with Turkey are increasingly bitter and the border region threatens to erupt.
Assad will know that force alone cannot save him, and has requested a hearing with the Arab League to plead his case. Although the suspension evokes parallels with Libya, Arab leaders have stressed there will be no military intervention. They hope that Assad will accept their peace plan and commit to ending eight months of violence that has claimed over 3,500 lives.
The regime can still count on support – and arms - from Russia so there is little prospect of the bloodshed ending imminently.