MAKKAH: The Organization of Islamic Cooperation suspended Syria’s membership early on Thursday at a summit of Muslim leaders in Makkah, citing President Bashar Assad’s violent suppression of the Syrian revolt.
In a closing statement, the OIC also decided to take to the United Nations the issue of Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingyas, displaced by deadly sectarian violence. It described as a “crime against humanity” the Myanmar government’s handling of minority Muslims and reiterated support for the Palestinians.
The statement by the 57-nation group said: “The conference decides to suspend the Syrian Arab Republic membership in the OIC and all its subsidiary organs, specialized and affiliated institutions.”
The move had been approved on Monday at a preliminary meeting of OIC foreign ministers and was agreed on the summit’s second night despite opposition from Iran. The two-day emergency solidarity summit was held on Tuesday and Wednesday in the holy city of Makkah.
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah presided over the meeting, attended by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad whose country has openly criticized the push to suspend Syria.
Participants had agreed on “the need to end immediately the acts of violence in Syria and to suspend that country from the OIC.”
The final statement said there had been “deep concern at the massacres and inhuman acts suffered by the Syrian people.”
OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu told a news conference the decision sent “a strong message from the Muslim world to the Syrian regime.”
“This world can no longer accept a regime that massacres its people using planes, tanks and heavy artillery,” he added.
It was “also a message to the international community stating that the Muslim world backs a peaceful solution (in Syria), wants an end to the bloodshed and refuses to let the problem degenerate into a religious conflict and spill over” into the wider region, Ihsanoglu said.
The emergency summit of the world’s largest Islamic bloc opened late Tuesday with the suspension proposal put forward by a preparatory meeting of foreign ministers, a symbolic attempt to pile pressure on Damascus over its deadly crackdown on a 17-month uprising.
The move by the OIC, which represents 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide, is aimed at further isolating Assad’s embattled regime.
Syria was suspended from the Arab League last year over its clampdown on the uprising that Assad characterized as a plot by Western and rival powers to overthrow his regime.
The meeting called for the “immediate implementation of the transitional peace plan and the development of a peaceful mechanism that would allow building a new Syrian state based on pluralism, democratic and civilian system.”
It also urged the UN Security Council to “assume fully its responsibility by stopping the ongoing violence and bloodshed in Syria and finding a peaceful and lasting solution to the Syrian crisis.”
The participants also stressed “the principal responsibility of the Syrian government for the continuation of violence and bloodshed.”
Algeria, Pakistan and Kazakhstan had called for the final statement of the summit, to which Damascus was not invited, to also pin blame on the armed opposition for the bloodshed in Syria, according to informed sources at the summit.
And Egypt’s President Muhammad Mursi proposed the formation of a committee grouping his country with key players Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to try to find a settlement to the Syrian conflict, a delegate had said.
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi on Monday criticized the move to suspend Syria’s membership of the OIC, saying it would not resolve the conflict and was not in line with the group’s charter.
However, a source close to the participants told AFP that the Islamic Republic which had repeatedly voiced support to its Damascus ally met the decision with a “soft reaction.”
Iran’s president had avoided mention of the Syrian conflict in a 55-minute speech on Tuesday night. “There has been a clear change in the Iranian position toward Syria,” according to a diplomat at the Makkah summit.
In a conciliatory move, King Abdullah proposed on Tuesday setting up a center in Riyadh for dialogue between Muslim Sunnis and Shiites.
In a second statement called the “Makkah Pact,” the participants proclaimed their support for “Muslim people who are oppressed like the Syrian people.”
It underlined the summit’s support for “the oppressed Muslim peoples... who face the combat aircraft and heavy guns of the regular armies as is the case of the Syrian people.”
The statement backed cooperation between Muslim states, the fight against divisions between Muslims, promotion of “moderate” Islam and the “fight against terrorism and the thinking behind it.”
Another key decision taken up by the OIC was to condemn “the continued recourse to violence by the Myanmar authorities against the members of this minority and their refusal to recognize their right to citizenship.”
“The summit has decided to bring this matter before the General Assembly of the United Nations,” it said in a final statement.
The OIC announced on Saturday before the summit that it had received a green light from Myanmar to assist displaced Rohingya.
It said Myanmar gave its agreement following talks in the capital Yangon on Friday between a delegation from the pan-Islamic body and President Thein Sein on the “deplorable humanitarian situation in Rakhine state.”
The delegation assured Thein Sein that Islamic humanitarian organizations were willing to provide aid to all residents of the strife-torn state.
King Abdullah decided last Saturday to grant $50 million to the Rohingya, describing them as victims of “several rights violations, including ethnic cleansing, murder, rape and forced displacement.”
Violence between Buddhists and Rohingya has left scores dead, with official figures indicating that 80 people from both sides died in initial fighting in June.
The entire state has been under emergency rule since early June with a heavy army and police presence.
— With reports from agencies