BEIRUT — The Arab League approved a sweeping package of measures Saturday censuring Syria, clearing the way for a significant escalation of international pressure against President Bashar Assad and deepening the isolation of his increasingly embattled government.
The 22-member regional body said it would suspend Syria's membership, impose sanctions and seek U.N. help unless the Syrian government stops using violence to suppress the country's 8-month-old uprising. The U.N. says at least 3,500 civilians have died in the crackdown.
The Arab League also summoned opposition leaders to a meeting in the next three days to formulate "a unified view of the coming transitional period," offering the clearest indication yet the region is moving closer to the Obama administration position that he should step down.
The unexpectedly severe measures suggested that Arab states are starting to plan for a post-Assad era. That will in turn increase pressure on other powers that have refrained from taking action against Syria, notably Russia, China and Turkey, opening the door to the kind of international consensus on Syria that the United States has been seeking to build, analysts said.
"This is a diplomatic game-changer," said Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar. "It's a significant moment that foretells greater international isolation and pressure on the Assad regime."
President Barack Obama hailed the move as evidence of "the increasing diplomatic isolation of a regime that has systematically violated human rights."
The resolution adopted at an emergency meeting in Cairo represented a rare display of Arab solidarity against a fellow regional power, marking only the third time a nation has been suspended. Egypt was ejected from 1979 to 1989 for signing a peace treaty with Israel, and Libya was suspended in March after the uprising there.