DAMASCUS, Syria — The Arab League declared “economic war” on Syria when it leveled broad trade sanctions against it, Syria’s foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, said Monday, warning that the country could use its strategic location to retaliate.
“Syria cannot be treated like this,” al-Moallem said at a news conference broadcast live around the region. He was by turns indignant and incredulous that the Arab League had turned the tool of sanctions, which it had long reviled, on one of its own.
“Sanctions can cut both ways,” he said. And while he contended that he did not want to threaten anyone, he said, “We should study well Syria’s geographic location as a transit point for commercial traffic.”
Many airlines cross Syrian airspace, al-Moallem noted. In addition, Syria is part of the main route for heavy trucks heading from Europe and Turkey to the Persian Gulf, where Qatar and Saudi Arabia are among Syria’s harshest critics.
His remarks were the first official reaction to measures imposed by the Arab League on Sunday after weeks of wrangling over a peace plan that stipulates that the government of President Bashar al-Assad end all violence, withdraw its armed forces from civilian areas, and allow Arab or other monitors to circulate freely within Syria.
With Syria showing no signs of acceding to the demands of the Arab League, including that it stop using violence to suppress antigovernment protests, the regional confrontation deepened.
Although everyday life in downtown Damascus appeared normal Monday, Syria’s economy had already been sputtering because of sanctions previously imposed by the European Union and the United States.
It was difficult to assess how the new measures might affect the country, because the Arab League has not released details and because important neighboring states like Iraq and Lebanon said they would not participate.