Xinhua News Agency
with editing by Nina Westbury
DAMASCUS, Nov.13 (Xinhua) — Millions of Syrians on Sunday thronged to main squares and streets in various Syrian cities to lend support to their embattled President Bashar al-Assad and to express discontent with the Arab League (AL) decision to suspend Syria’s membership.
In the capital, Damascus, hundreds of thousands flocked to the Saba Bahrat Square, arriving either on foot or by using public transportation. It appeared as if the whole city was out on the streets on Sunday.
Some people waved Syrian flags along with Assad’s posters and shouted slogans such as “God, Syria and Bashar only,” while others carried banners, some of which read “down with the Hebrew League,” referring to the AL, accusing it of acting out a Western and Israeli led conspiracy against Syria.
The nationwide raucous rallies came a day after the AL decided to suspend the activities of Syrian delegation in the pan-Arab body.
The 22-nation AL convened an emergency meeting in the Egyptian capital of Cairo on Saturday to weigh the possibility of undertaking harsher measures against the Syrian government given its alleged breach of a plan reached between the two sides recently to bring the months-old crisis in Syria to a close.
The AL plan calls for stopping violence and withdrawing military vehicles from Syrian streets in addition to releasing detainees and holding a dialogue between Syrian authorities and the opposition at the AL headquarters.
Under the latest AL resolution, activities of the Syrian delegation in the pan-Arab body would be suspended, effective Wednesday. The AL also called on its members to withdraw their ambassadors in Syria and urged sanctions on Damascus until the peace plan it brokered is implemented.
The international community along with some opposition activists welcomed the resolution. United Nations (UN) chief Ban Ki-moon on Saturday voiced support to the resolution, urging Damascus to heed the AL call to “stop violence” and “implement the working plan fully and speedily.”
U.S. President Barack Obama praised the League’s move, and France said it was time for international bodies to take more action against Syrian government.
An hour after the League’s decision, angry rallies swept across Syria to express resentment with the AL stance.
The rowdy crowds pelted the Qatari embassy in Damascus with eggs and tomatoes and shouted obscenities at Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jasim al-Thani, who headed the AL emergency session on Saturday.
Protestors reportedly stormed the Saudi embassy, which is located near the Qatari one, to bring down the Saudi flag.
Meanwhile, Syria’s official media blasted the AL decision and confirmed that the country is still capable of encountering the challenges and of emerging even stronger.
The Arab decision was also slammed by some opposition figures inside Syria, such as Mohammad Habash, a parliamentarian who heads the Third Way movement that gathers around 40 politicians and intellectuals. Habash said in a statement that the AL has ” deviated from its charter and internal system” by suspending Syria’s membership.
Syrian Ambassador to the AL Yusuf Ahmad said on Saturday that the AL’s latest decision came in contravention to the AL principles, accusing the AL of acting out a foreign agenda by applying such decision.
The Syrian opposition abroad has recently called on the AL to suspend Syria’s membership and to back sanctions against those responsible for human rights abuses in the country.