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Syria faces Arab League sanctions as deadline slips

ISTANBUL — A deadline the Arab League had set for Syria to sign a deal allowing observers into the country to monitor whether the government was adhering to a peace plan expired Friday without any Syrian response, setting the stage for the league to impose sanctions on the regime of President Bashar Assad.

Turkey's foreign minister said his country would coordinate with the Arab League on imposing sanctions, an indication of the extent to which the international community has lined up to force Assad to end his bloody crackdown on anti-government demonstrators, which has taken the lives of an estimated 3,500 people. Turkey once was considered a close Assad ally.

"There is excellent coordination between Turkey and the Arab League," Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said at a news conference he held with Jordan's foreign minister. "We share every step we make and every position we develop."

Davutoglu said Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan would attend a meeting of Arab League finance ministers Saturday to decide what to do next and that he himself would participate in a meeting of Arab League foreign ministers tentatively set for Sunday. He said he was continuing to consult with the European Union, NATO and U.N. Security Council members on what next steps should be taken to increase pressure on Assad's regime. He met Friday with Italy's foreign minister as well.

Davutoglu warned that Syria would be isolated by Turkey, Arab countries and the entire international community if it rejected the Arab proposals, and that Turkey could adopt further measures against the regime.

There were few signs, however, that the threats of further international isolation had moved Assad and his supporters. Syria's state-run SANA news agency accused the Arab League of being a "tool for foreign interference." The country's military announced that it would "cut every evil hand that targets Syrian blood" on Friday in what appeared to be a pledge to step up pressure on anti-government demonstrators.

Violence has been escalating in recent weeks as opposition forces increasingly target pro-Assad security forces after months of harsh government repression, and there are fears that civil war could wrack Syria.

News reports said security forces had killed at least 11 people Friday in Syria, while SANA reported that 10 members of the military had been killed in an ambush Thursday in the restive city of Homs.

SANA has reported the deaths of more than 120 members of the security forces this month, an indication that the government's crackdown is facing growing armed resistance.

Syria has agreed to remove its military from restive cities, but it's balked at Arab League insistence that it allow 500 observers into the country to monitor the government's adherence to the terms of the peace plan.

Davutoglu said the Arab League's demand for the observers was Syria's "last chance," but he ruled out military intervention to end the Assad regime's crackdown.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe has called for creating humanitarian corridors in Syria to allow aid groups to reach cities such as Homs. But so far France remains alone in advocating such action.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh told the news conference Friday that he still hoped Syria would sign the Arab League peace plan agreeing to the observers.

A Syrian opposition group protested in front of the Syrian Consulate in Istanbul, chanting slogans that called for supporting the so-called "Free Syrian Army," an armed group that says it's made up of army defectors in Syria.

(Yezdani is a McClatchy special correspondent.)

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