UPDATE 2-Syria to be suspended from int'l Islamic body -diplomat

Mon Aug 13, 2012 10:57pm IST

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JEDDAH Aug 13 (Reuters) - Syria will be suspended from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation on Wednesday for its violent suppression of a 17-month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, a diplomat said on Monday ahead of an emergency OIC summit in Mecca.

"The resolution regarding the suspension of the Syrian membership in the OIC is not facing obstacles ... It will be approved," said the diplomat, speaking on the sidelines of a preliminary foreign ministers meeting in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

He said the decision was likely to be formally announced at the end of the second day of the summit, which was called by Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah earlier this month.

Iran, which has backed the government of President Bashar al-Assad in his response to the uprising, and has accused the OIC summit hosts Saudi Arabia of assisting the rebels, said it opposed the resolution.

"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," Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi to reporters in Jeddah.

His comments pointed towards a diplomatic showdown in Mecca between some Sunni Muslim states, including Saudi Arabia, and Shi'ite Muslim Iran - a reflection of heightened sectarian tensions across the region.

The OIC, a body comprising 56 member states plus the Palestinian Authority, aims to represent Muslim interests on the world stage.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived in Mecca on Monday echoing King Abdullah's call for the summit to increase Muslim unity, saying before his departure that it was a chance for his country's viewpoint to be "explained transparently".

However, Iran has also pushed for the summit to address the continued uprising in Bahrain, where some Saudi troops went last year at the invitation of the Sunni monarchy to help quell mass protests by the tiny island state's Shi'ite majority.

King Abdullah's decision to invite Ahmadinejad to the Mecca summit drew rare criticism in Saudi-owned media on Monday, with an editorial in the kingdom's edition of pan-Arab daily al-Hayat saying it would "add only schism and division to the summit".

Saudi Arabia has called for the Syrian people to be "enabled to protect themselves" if the world powers cannot protect them.

Riyadh is worried that the crisis will further inflame the sectarian violence in Bahrain as well as other countries with large Shi'ite communities.

Late on Sunday, Salehi said the resignation of Kofi Annan as the joint U.N. and Arab League envoy to Syria last week did not spell the end of Annan's six-point plan to end the crisis.

Salehi said Iran was opposed to the imposition of an internationally enforced no-fly zone over Syria, which Syrian rebels have called for to curb the ability of Assad's air power to restrict rebel movements.

"Kofi Annan's plan in Syria is just as alive and I'm not sure who will come after him but I imagine he will work along the same suggested guidelines, the six points," he said in Arabic. "We are against any foreign interference of any kind in Syria, including a no fly zone."

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