Arab ministers, spurred to action by worsening violence in Syria, were meeting in Cairo Sunday to plan how to enforce sanctions on President Bashar al-Assad's government after it failed to implement a regional peace plan.

Ministers told the Arab League's economic and social council to draw up measures after Damascus ignored a deadline to let in Arab monitors and take other steps to end the government's crackdown on an eight-month uprising against Assad's rule.

The council, which met Saturday, proposed freezing Syrian government assets, halting commercial flights, stopping dealings with Syria's central bank and a travel ban on senior officials.

The measures could plunge Syria deeper into economic crisis, although the Arab ministers have said sanctions are not intended to hurt ordinary people.

Today's meeting will focus on two issues. First approving the decisions taken by the economic council yesterday and finding a way to force them on the Syrian regime that does not let the regime find a way to skirt them, a senior League source said.

The most important thing we are seeking is that sanctions make a difference and get implemented, he said, asking not to be named because of the sensitivity of the subject.

The League for decades avoided action against its 22 members but the pan-Arab body has been galvanised by pressure from Gulf Arabs already angry at Syria's alliance with their regional rival Iran and changes brought about by Arab uprisings.

The scale of the bloodshed has also driven Arabs to act.

Hundreds of people, including civilians, soldiers and army deserters, have been killed in Syria this month, possibly the bloodiest since the unrest broke out in March inspired by uprisings that overthrew leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

The United Nations says more than 3,5000 people have been killed in total.


But some of Syria's neighbours, such as Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan, are wary of any damage to trade and commercial interests, or have political reservations.

Other Arab states with restive populations of their own are cautious about setting a precedent.

That means penalties are unlikely to be implemented in any watertight fashion.

So far the Arab states that have said they have some reservations are Algeria, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, said one League official. Some suggested sanctions are imposed gradually but the Arab League is less likely to approve that, as it was discussed and rejected (on Saturday).

Non-Arab Turkey's foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, joined the Arab ministers in Cairo, adding pressure on Damascus from its biggest neighbour. He sat next to the Qatari minister, who is the heading the session and who has pushed for firm stance.

Davutoglu said Friday Turkey was ready to act in unison with the League if Syria failed to show good intentions in halting the crackdown.

Another League source said measures could be approved by a majority vote, just like a decision to suspend Syria from the League this month that was approved by 18 members. Yemen and Lebanon opposed that decision. Iraq abstained.

Baghdad has already indicated it will not impose sanctions and said other neighbours had similar reservations.

Iraq is a neighbour to Syria and there are interests, there are hundreds of thousands of Iraqis living in Syria and there is trade, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said in Iraq before ministers met. Lebanon also has the same idea and Jordan too has shown its objection.

A group of five nations plus League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby, which has been charged with drawing up action over Syria, met Sunday before the full ministerial meeting.

The group was joined by Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, adding weight to the meeting of ministers from Qatar, Sudan, Oman, Algeria and Egypt plus Elaraby.

This means the small meeting aims to take a strong decision and that is why it has both Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the region's most influential states, said one League source while that session was going on.

(Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Alistair Lyon and Angus MacSwan)