MAKKAH - In a new blow to embattled President Bashar Al-Assad, a global Muslim body has supported the suspension of Syria's membership over a deadly crackdown on anti-regime protests, which claimed thousands of lives.
"The decision has been agreed upon based on consensus with an absolute majority" in favor of suspending Syria's membership, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, secretary general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), said, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.
OIC foreign ministers, who held a preparatory meeting on Monday, August 13, agreed to suspend Syria's membership.
The suspension, however, was opposed by Shiite-majority Iran and Algeria, sources close to the meeting told AFP.
Syria had no representatives at the meeting.
The recommendation will be refer to the heads of the OIC member-states for approval during their summit on Wednesday, August 15.
It will be put to heads of state at their summit in Mecca, which will continue on Wednesday, for "final approval," Ihsanoglu said.
Tunisian Foreign Minister Rafik Abdessalem hailed the suspension as "a strong message to the Syrian regime on the importance of listening to the will of the people and their demands for freedom, justice and dignity."
But the decision was criticized by Iran, a close ally to the Assad's regime.
"We certainly do not agree with the suspension of any OIC member," Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said after the meeting.
"The suspension of its membership does not really resolve the issue and is not in line with the OIC charter," he said.
"We have to look for other ways, means and mechanisms for resolving conflicts and crises."
More than 21,000 people have been killed since a revolt against Assad's 11-year rule began last year.
Divisions among big powers and regional rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia have stymied diplomatic attempts to calm the 17-month conflict in the pivotal Arab country.
The violence has displaced 1.5 million people inside Syria and forced many to flee abroad, with 150,000 registered refugees in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq, UN figures show.
The suspension comes as former Syrian prime minister, who defected to Jordan last week, said that the Assad's regime was collapsing.
"I tell you out of my experience and the position I occupied that the regime is collapsing, morally, materially and economically, he told a press conference cited by Reuters.
Militarily it is crumbling as it no longer occupies more than 30 percent of Syrian territory," he said.
Hijab, who like much of the opposition comes from Syria's Sunni Muslim majority, defected to Jordan last week.
As prime minister and the most senior civilian official to defect, his departure dealt a symbolic blow to the government, which is dominated by Assad's minority Alawite sect.
Syrian authorities said they had dismissed Hijab before he fled, but he told the news conference in Amman that he resigned and defected to the opposition, referring to the Assad government as an "enemy of God".
"It is my duty to wash my hands of this corrupt regime," he said.
The former premier called on the Syrian army to side with the opposition against the Assad's regime.
"I urge the army to follow the example of Egypt's and Tunisia's armies - take the side of people," he said.
He also called on the Syrian opposition to work harder to unify their fractious ranks."Oh men of the Free Syrian Army, unify your ranks as all hopes hang on you, you are the best fighters of this world.