The Arab League suspended Syria and called on its army to stop killing civilians in a surprise move on Saturday that some Western leaders said should prompt tougher international action against President Bashar al-Assad.
Hours after the League’s decision, hundreds of Assad supporters armed with sticks and knives attacked the Saudi Arabian embassy in Damascus and Turkish and French consulates in the city of Latakia, residents said.
U.S. President Barack Obama praised the League’s move and France said it was time for international bodies to take more action against Syria’s government.
The Arab League will impose economic and political sanctions on Damascus and has appealed to member states to withdraw their ambassadors, said Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani. It will also call a meeting of Syrian opposition parties, he said.
“We were criticised for taking a long time but this was out of our concern for Syria,” Sheikh Hamad told reporters at the League’s headquarters in Cairo. “We needed to have a majority to approve those decisions.”
Syria’s representative at the Arab League said the decision was “not worth the ink it was written with.”
The League’s announcement was a sharp rebuke for Syria’s leadership which sees itself as a champion of Arab nationalism.
Hopes among Western powers that Assad would be isolated by his Arab neighbours were repeatedly dashed until now. Some Arab leaders have been reluctant to turn against one of their peers given their own restive populations, Middle East diplomats say.
But Assad has pressed ahead with the crackdown on protesters against his rule despite an Arab peace plan brokered on November 2. The United Nations says more than 3,500 people have been killed in seven months of violence.
Syria blames armed groups for the violence and says 1,200 members of the security forces have been killed. Assad, from the minority Alawite community which has held power for four decades in mainly Muslim Syria, has said he has used legitimate means to confront a foreign conspiracy to sow sectarian strife.
Activists said six people were killed in Syria on Saturday.
Sheikh Hamad said the suspension of Syria from the regional body would take effect on November 16, but did not detail the sanctions, Reuters reports.