U.S. seeks "forceful" Arab League message on Syria

WASHINGTON Wed Nov 16, 2011 12:58am IST

Prince Turki Al Faisal of Saudi Arabia, former director general of the Saudi General Intelligence Directorate, speaks on Saudi issues in Washington November 15, 2011. REUTERS/Molly Riley

Prince Turki Al Faisal of Saudi Arabia, former director general of the Saudi General Intelligence Directorate, speaks on Saudi issues in Washington November 15, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Molly Riley

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States hopes the Arab League will use its next meeting on Wednesday to send a forceful message to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to halt violence against his own people, the State Department said.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Washington was pleased with the Arab League's move on Saturday to suspend Syria, and hoped for more follow-up when Arab foreign ministers meet in Morocco on Wednesday.

"We look for the Arab League tomorrow to again send a forceful message to Assad that he needs to allow for a democratic transition to take place and end the violence against his people," Toner told a news briefing on Tuesday.

Toner cited forceful statements from Syria's neighbor Turkey and the European Union's move to target 18 people in a new round of Syria sanctions as evidence that an international consensus was forming about how to deal with Syria's crisis.

"The drumbeat of international pressure is increasing on Assad," Toner said.

The United States has repeatedly called on Assad to step down, but has said it is working with Arab and other allies to develop a coordinated response to a crisis that the United Nations says has killed more than 3,500 people since anti-government protests began in March.

Syria's government blames armed gangs sponsored from abroad for killing at least 1,100 troops and police.

The Arab League has asked Syria's opposition groups to draw up their plans for a transition of power as a prelude to a wider gathering on Syria's future planned by the Cairo-based body.

Toner said that the United States was in touch with a number of Syrian opposition groups including the Syrian National Council, and would remain in contact with them as they consider their next steps.

"We certainly do consider the Syrian opposition to be developing, to be becoming more cohesive as we move forward," Toner said.

Toner said the U.S. Embassy in Damascus had confirmed that 42 civilians were killed by Syrian security forces on Monday, and acknowledged that other reports have put the number of deaths far higher.

"Since Syria said it was going to comply with the Arab League's demands, it's actually increased violence against these protesters," Toner said.

(Editing by Eric Beech)

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