NOVEMBER 16 2011 09:29h
Arab League summit: Syria 'on knife-edge'
Ersad Hurmuzlu, a top foreign policy adviser to Turkish President Abdullah Gul, told Turkish news channel NTV Ankara would consider giving sanctuary to fleeing refugees through a military-imposed buffer zone on the Syrian side of the border, provided the move had international support.
"The protection of civilians is certainly very important," he told the network as Arab League delegates were to begin a summit on Syria in Rabat, Morocco. "But what matters is an international resolution on the issue. It seems out of the question for us to do that on our own."
Turkey's Energy Ministry threatened Tuesday to cut off electricity supplies to Syria. And Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who once vacationed with President Bashar Assad and considered him a key regional ally until recently, said he had given up hope the Syrian leader would respond to international pressure to reform.
"The Syrian administration is on a knife-edge," he told parliamentary deputies Tuesday.
The league voted Saturday to suspend Syria from the 22-member pan-Arab organization starting Wednesday as punishment for Assad's repression of dissent.
It also threatened economic and political sanctions, as well as ambassador withdrawals, which it intended to discuss at Wednesday's summit.
The league was also expected to discuss how civilians could be protected against the bloody crackdown of Syrian forces, Hurmuzlu said.
Activists said Tuesday more than 70 people had died the day before, including at least 34 military and security officers engaged in clashes with army defectors.
Jordan's King Abdullah Monday called on Assad to step down over the repression -- the first Arab head of state to do so.
Russia, normally a staunch Assad supporter, met Tuesday with Assad political opponents courting Russian support, The New York Times reported. Arab League delegates also met with Syria's opposition.
The Assad regime had demanded the league hold an emergency meeting Monday or Tuesday, ahead of Wednesday's summit, to discuss the suspension, which Syria called "a dangerous step."
But the Gulf Cooperation Council, a political and economic Persian Gulf state bloc -- including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, who diplomats say were key to pushing through the league suspension -- opposed Syria's request, the Times said.
The council said Tuesday an emergency meeting would be "useless" ahead of Wednesday's summit.
Syria's suspension followed the collapse of a league peace plan under which Syria agreed release detainees, withdraw its forces from cities and towns and end violence against protesters. It also agreed to give outside observers and the media free movement throughout the country and to begin negotiations with the opposition in Cairo.
But since the Nov. 2 agreement, Syria has seen some of the bloodiest days since the uprising began March 15.
On the eve of the summit, Syria released 1,180 prisoners "who were involved in the recent events," the official Syrian Arab News Agency reported.
U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Tuesday "the drumbeat of international pressure is increasing on Assad" and Washington hoped the Arab League would "send a forceful message to Assad that he needs to allow for a democratic transition to take place and end the violence against his people."
RABAT, Morocco, Nov. 16 (UPI) -- Turkey mulled a buffer zone on its border with Syria to protect refugees as the Arab League was to discuss civilian protection and Assad-regime sanctions.