World Muslim body poised to suspend Syria
MECCA, Saudi Arabia - The world's largest Islamic bloc was poised Wednesday to suspend conflict-wracked Syria, despite opposition from Iran, a staunch ally of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
An emergency summit of the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) opened late Tuesday with the proposal put forward by a preparatory meeting of foreign ministers, a symbolic attempt to pile pressure on Damascus over its deadly crackdown on a 17-month uprising.
A draft final statement obtained by AFP said the summit, in Mecca, Islam's holiest city, "approves the suspension of Syria's membership." It is expected to be endorsed when the leaders reconvene late Wednesday evening.
The move by the OIC, which represents 1.5 million Muslims worldwide, is aimed at further isolating Assad's embattled regime but its effect is seen as being largely symbolic.
Syria was suspended from the Arab League last year over its clampdown on the uprising that Assad characterised as a plot by Western and rival powers to overthrow his regime.
Saudi King Abdullah has presided over the meeting, attended by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad whose country has openly criticised the push to suspend Syria.
The draft statement says Syria should be suspended over "the obstinacy of the Syrian authorities in following the military option" to solve the crisis and the failure of a UN-Arab League peace plan brokered by Kofi Annan.
It demands that Assad's regime "immediately end all acts of violence" without calling for the president to step down, while defending Syria's "unity, sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity."
Tensions have been simmering for months between Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia and Shiite-dominated Iran as Syria has emerged as another arena for the longtime rivalry between the two regional heavyweights.
Despite the opposed stands, Iran's president avoided mention of the Syrian conflict in a speech on Tuesday night as did Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah in his opening speech, indicating an accommodation between the region's superpowers.
"There has been a clear change in the Iranian position towards Syria," according to a diplomat at the Mecca summit.
In another conciliatory move, King Abdullah, whose country hosts the OIC headquarters in its Red Sea city of Jeddah, proposed Tuesday setting up a centre in Riyadh for dialogue between Muslim confessions.
Iran is the Syrian regime's biggest regional ally and has pledged its full support for Assad.
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi on Monday criticised the move to suspend Syria's membership of the OIC, saying it would not resolve the conflict and was not in line with the group's charter.
But foreign ministers meeting ahead of the summit agreed on the suspension "based on consensus with an absolute majority" and forwarded the decision to the heads of state for final approval, OIC chief Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu said.
Algeria, Pakistan and Kazakhstan called for the final statement of the summit, to which Damascus was not invited, also pin blame on the armed opposition for the bloodshed in Syria.
And Egypt's President Mohamed Morsi proposed the formation of a committee grouping his country with key players Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to try to find a settlement to the Syrian conflict, a delegate said.
In addition to the Syrian crisis, the OIC delegates were also to discuss the Arab-Israeli conflict, the violence against the Muslim Rohingya minority in Myanmar and unrest in Mali.
About 40 heads of government from the Arab world, Africa and Asia took part in the summit. - Agence France Presse