The Arab League gave Syria three days Wednesday to end an eight-month-old crackdown on protests and allow in teams of observers, signalling its patience with Damascus was running out.

Intensifying pressure on President Bashar al-Assad, League foreign ministers meeting in Morocco said in a statement they had also asked their experts to draft a plan for economic sanctions on Syria, which was suspended from the organisation.

Asked if the three-day deadline was a last-ditch attempt at diplomacy, Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim al-Thani told reporters:

I do not want this to sound like a warning. What I can say is that we are close to the end of the road as far as the (Arab League's) efforts on this front are concerned.

The body did not say what would happen if Syria failed to comply.

Syrian army defectors attacked an intelligence complex on the edge of Damascus in a high-profile assault that showed how close the popular uprising was to sliding into armed conflict.

Assad supporters in the capital threw stones and debris at the embassy of the United Arab Emirates and smeared its walls with graffiti, witnesses said. The embassy is in one of the most secure districts of Damascus, near Assad's home and offices.

France recalled its ambassador and Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Paris was working with the Arab League on a draft resolution at the United Nations.

Last month Russia and China vetoed a Security Council resolution that would have condemned Damascus, but since then the normally cautious Arab League has suspended Syria for failing to implement an Arab peace plan.

New violence is taking place and that has led to the closure of the missions in Aleppo and Latakia and to recall our ambassador to Paris, Juppe said, referring to weekend attacks by pro-Assad demonstrators on French diplomatic premises, as well as Turkish and Saudi missions, in Syria.

Arab foreign ministers met in Rabat for an Arab-Turkish forum, where a Syrian flag was placed by an empty chair. The Arab League decision to suspend Syrian membership came into effect Wednesday.

(Additional reporting Souhail Karam in Rabat, Dominic Evans in Beirut, John Irish in Paris, Mahmoud Habboush in Dubai and Ramin Mostafavi in Tehran; Writing by Alistair Lyon and Christian Lowe, edited by Richard Meares)