Arab League to discuss suspending Syria

October 19, 2011 - 1:30 AM

BEIRUT (AP) — Arab foreign ministers have called an emergency meeting Sunday to discuss whether to suspend Syria from the Arab League, officials said, ramping up the pressure on Damascus to end its bloody crackdown on anti-government protesters.

Despite the growing international chorus for an end to the crisis, Syrian President Bashar Assad has shown no sign of backing down or easing his campaign to crush the seven-month-old uprising against his regime. On Sunday, security forces opened fire on a funeral for a slain activist in the east, while security forces arrested at least 44 people in the capital's suburbs in house-to-house raids.

Arab League officials said the meeting Sunday in Cairo was called at the behest of several Gulf countries and aims to pressure Assad to halt the crackdown, which the U.N. says has killed more than 3,000 people since the uprising began in mid-March.

Many Gulf states, including heavyweight Saudi Arabia, already have withdrawn their ambassadors from Syria to protest the regime's bloody response to the protests.

One official said the Arab League will consider other measures if suspension fails to compel the Syrian regime to stop the bloodshed. He declined to elaborate.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.

Meanwhile, around 7,000 people took to the streets Sunday in the eastern Syrian city of Deir el-Zour for the funeral of an activist, Ziad al-Obeidi, who was killed a day earlier. Al-Obeidi worked for the British-based Observatory for Human Rights in Syria, and had been in hiding since troops stormed the city two months ago.

Observatory director Rami Abdul-Rahman said security forces fired live ammunition to disperse the mourners Sunday, but there was no immediate word on casualties.

Abdul-Rahman and other activists said security forces also stormed areas near the capital Damascus and were carrying out house-to-house arrests in pursuit of fugitives as part of efforts to suppress the resilient anti-government uprising.

He said at least 19 people were arrested in Dumeir Sunday and 25 people in the suburb of Zabadani.

The Local Coordination Committees activist network said security forces and soldiers were setting up barricades in Zabadani and Madaya and raiding houses.

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Michael reported from Cairo.