MAKKAH: An emergency summit of the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) began late Tuesday with a proposal to suspend conflict-wracked Syria, a move strongly opposed by Iran.
A draft final statement obtained said the summit "approves the suspension of Syria's membership," a measure recommended by a preparatory ministerial meeting held Monday in the western Saudi city of Jeddah.
The move would further isolate President Bashar al-Assad's embattled regime, after Syria was suspended from the Arab League last year over its brutal crackdown on an Arab Spring-inspired revolt launched in March 2011.
The OIC represents 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide, and its suspension of Syria would heap pressure on Assad, who has characterized the uprising as a plot by Western and rival powers to overthrow his Iran-allied regime.
Saudi King Abdullah -- who initially proposed the suspension of Syria -- is presiding over the meeting held in Mecca, the holiest Islamic city.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose country has openly criticised the push to suspend Syria, is attending the extraordinary meeting and was expected to strongly oppose the move to suspend Damascus.
The draft statement says Syria should be suspended over "the obstinacy of the Syrian authorities in following the military option" to solve the crisis and the failure of a UN-Arab League peace plan brokered by Kofi Annan.
It demands that Assad's regime "immediately end all acts of violence" while defending Syria's "unity, sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity."
Sources close to the meeting said that only Iran and Algeria were against the recommendation. Syria had no representative at the meeting.
Mohammed Ahmed Taieb, a top Saudi foreign ministry official, said that some delegates believed the body should go further by demanding that Assad step down and "preparing for a post-Assad transition period."
Tunisian Foreign Minister Rafik Abdessalem hailed the move to suspend 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."
The United States said that special envoy to the OIC Rashad Hussain would take part in the summit as an observer and meet with delegates on the sidelines.
The State Department said his attendance demonstrates Washington's commitment to "bring additional pressure to bear on the Assad regime."
The 17-month conflict in Syria has killed more than 21,000 people, according to rights groups.
In addition to the Syrian crisis, the OIC was also to discuss the Arab-Israeli conflict, the violence against the Muslim Rohingya minority in Myanmar and the unrest in Mali. (AFP)