The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has suspended Syria's membership, citing President Assad's violent suppression of a 17-month uprising. The move followed reports of further civlian deaths in regime raids.
Members attending an emergency summit of the 57-member OIC announced early Thursday that Syria's membership had been suspended.
"The conference decides to suspend the Syrian Arab Republic membership in the OIC and all its subsidiary organs, specialized and affiliated institutions," the organization said in a closing statement.
A draft statement had earlier said Syria should be suspended over "the obstinacy of the Syrian authorities in following the military option" and the failure of a peace plan brokered by outgoing international envoy Kofi Annan.
Representatives in Saudi Arabia's holy city Mecca had been debating the suspension for two consecutive nights. It was first proposed at a preliminary meeting of OIC foreign ministers on Monday. One Arab diplomat told German news agency dpa late on Wednesday that they were engaged in "heated discussions behind closed doors," with fierce opposition from Iran.
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi has criticized the move, saying it would not resolve the crisis and was not in line with the group's charter. Iran is Bashar Assad's biggest regional ally and has pledged full support for the Syrian regime.
'Crimes against humanity'
The suspension, although largely symbolic, is aimed at further isolating the Syrian regime. It came hours after Syrian government forces lauched air raids on the village of Azaz, near Syria's second city Aleppo, killing at least 30 people and wounding scores more.
Among those reportedly killed were 11 Lebanese Shiite pilgrims who were kidnapped by rebels near Aleppo in May.
Assad's forces are increasingly using air power to crush the 17-month uprising - a development which was noted by United Nations human rights investigators on Wednesday.
A report issued by the UN Commission of Inquiry found that government forces and their militia supporters had committed crimes against humanity. The report also pointed the finger at rebel forces, saying they had also carried out war crimes, but to a lesser scale.
"The commission found reasonable grounds to believe that government forces and the shabiha had committed the crimes against humanity of murder and torture, war crimes and gross violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law," it said.
The 102-page report was compiled by independent investigators who conducted more than 1,000 interviews, mainly with Syrian refugees or defectors who have fled into neighboring countries.
According to UN estimates more than 17,000 people have been killed since the conflict erupted. Opposition groups have put that figure closer to 20,000.
ccp/jm (Reuters, AFP, dpa)