Syria faces OIC suspension

Syrian flag. Picture: AFP.

ALEPPO - Syria will be suspended from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on Wednesday for its violent suppression of a 17-month uprising, a diplomat said on Monday before a two-day 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.

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.

Earlier, A Syrian warplane crashed in flames in eastern Syria in disputed circumstances on Monday as President Bashar al-Assad's forces pursued their drive to quell rebels in Aleppo and elsewhere.

State media said technical problems had caused the crash and a search was under way for the pilot 

Hours earlier, rebels said they had shot down a plane in the same area and an opposition activist who said he was in the north-eastern town of Mohassen posted a video of a fighter jet bursting into flames while under heavy ground fire.

The video could not be independently verified. The downing of a warplane would be a rare coup for lightly armed rebels up against the superior weaponry of Assad's forces, which have made increasing use of air power in recent months.

Reuters journalists have seen fighter jets firing rockets at rebel-held villages and districts in the northern city of Aleppo, the main battle front in Syria so far this month.

Fawaz Zakri, a member of the opposition Syrian National Council visiting rebel fighters in Aleppo, urged outside powers to send arms and ammunition to help Syrians defend themselves.

"We are not asking for tanks or artillery launchers. We need anti-aircraft weapons and rockets so that we can stop this takeover by the Assad army and daily shelling," he said, toting a black rifle near frontlines in the Saif al-Dawla district.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar are believed to be paying for weapons reaching rebels via Turkey, while the United States and Britain say they are stepping up non-lethal assistance. Assad's main military suppliers are thought to be Russia andIran.


Four civilians lay dead in a nearby street in Saif al-Dawla, next to the bitterly contested Salaheddine district. All were victims of army sniper fire, the rebel Free Syrian Army said.

The bodies of a man and a woman slumped in a bullet-riddled yellow taxi. A bloated male corpse lay on a stinking pile of rubbish. Another dead man sprawled in the street, his face purple and bloated, with several dolls lying near his hand.

Syria's uprising began in March last year with peaceful demonstrations for change, inspired by Arab revolts elsewhere. Assad's violent response spawned an insurgency, plunging Syria into a civil war in which more than 18,000 civilians, soldiers and rebels have been killed, opposition sources estimate.

More than 50 Syrians, including 39 civilians, were killed across the country on Monday, according to an opposition watchdog, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Daily death tolls have ranged far higher than this in recent weeks.

The head of a faltering U.N. monitoring mission said violence was intensifying across Syria and accused both sides of ignoring the plight of civilians caught up in the conflict.

"The indiscriminate use of heavy weapons by the government and targeted attacks by the opposition in urban centres are inflicting a heavy toll on innocent civilians," General Babacar Gaye said in Damascus. "I deeply regret that none of the parties has prioritised the needs of civilians.

The mandate for the U.N. monitors, whose original mission was to observe an April ceasefire that never took hold, expires on August 19. Their numbers have already been cut to a third because violence has made it impossible for them to move around.

The relentless conflict and disagreements among big powers and regional rivals foiled diplomatic efforts led by U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, who resigned in frustration.

The United States and Turkey indicated at the weekend they would consider ways of helping the Syrian opposition, with a no-fly zone among many options, and preparing for a post-Assad era.

Russia and China firmly oppose outside military intervention in Syria, not that Western powers have until now shown any stomach for any Libya-style air campaign or other overt action.