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Syria to be suspended from Islamic body


Foreign ministers at a meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) agreed on Monday to suspend Syria from the international body, an OIC source said, further isolating President Bashar al-Assad.

"The session just ended. The ministers adopted the resolutions, including the suspension of Syria," the source told Reuters.

The move by the OIC, a body comprising 56 member states plus the Palestinian Authority that aims to represent Muslim interests on the world stage, is its response to Assad's suppression of a 17-month uprising.

It will have more symbolic than practical implications for the Assad government which has never put emphasis on religion and which will continue to enjoy support from Iran which opposed the decision to suspend Syria at the OIC.

Earlier Iran had been the lead critic of the suspension, saying it would only increase Assad's isolation.

"I'm openly against the suspension of the membership of any country, any organization," Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehitold reporters in Jeddah, seat of the 57-strong OIC of which allies Iran and Syria are members.

"By suspending membership, this does not mean that you are moving toward resolving an issue. This means that you are erasing the issue. We want to really resolve the issue," he said.

"Every country, especially OIC countries must join hands to resolve this issue in such a way that will help the peace security and stability in the region," he added on the eve of an OIC summit in Saudi Arabia.

The ministers were holding preparatory talks before a two-day OIC summit in Mecca starting on Tuesday where heads of government will take the formal decision on Syria, probably on Wednesday.

Syrian official in China

A special envoy to Syria's president will hold talks in China on Tuesday, a day after rebels claimed to have downed a government plane for the first time.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said Assad's envoy, Buthaina Shaaban, will meet with Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.

Qin said China is also considering inviting members of Syrian opposition groups to visit.

China and Russia have been at odds with the United States and other Western countries over UN Security Council resolutions that might have opened the door to foreign intervention in Syria.

China says it wants to promote a political solution between the Syrian government and opposition to end the fighting.

Earlier the US Pentagon deplored what it said was an increasing use of air power by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government against rebels, after a plane was downed in eastern Syia.

The comments came just days after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States and Turkey were looking at all measures to help Syrian rebels overthrow Assad, including establishing a no-fly zone.

Asked about the use of Syrian air power at a briefing with reporters, Pentagon spokesman George Little said: "We've seen a very troubling and despicable uptick in attacks from the air, perpetrated by the Syrian regime."

"This is yet another example of their depraved behavior. This needs to stop as does the violence they continue to pursue against their own people," Little said.

Little did not comment on the possibility of establishing a no-fly zone, which would mean using force to stop Syrian warplanes from operating over all or part of Syria's territory.

While the Pentagon has done basic contingency planning on a range of options in Syria, putting in place a no-fly zone - even if the allies agree to do so - could take weeks or months.

Monday's Pentagon comments came the same day rebels in eastern Syria said they had captured the pilot of a government fighter jet after shooting down his aircraft - a rare event for the lightly armed rebels battling Assad's superior weaponry.

The state news channel Syria TV said the plane crashed due to technical problems during a "regular training mission."

(Al-Akhbar, AFP, Reuters)

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