Syrian President Bashar Assad
Syrian President Bashar AssadIsrael news photo: Flash 90

Foreign ministers at a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) agreed on Monday to suspend Syria from the international body, further isolating President Bashar al-Assad.

“The session just ended. The ministers adopted the resolutions, including the suspension of Syria,” an OIC source told Reuters.

The move by the OIC, a body comprising 56 member states and the Palestinian Authority and which aims to represent Muslim interests on the world stage, is its response to Assad's suppression of a 17-month uprising.

Reuters noted, however, that the move will have more symbolic than practical implications for the Assad government which has never put emphasis on religion and which will continue to enjoy support from Iran which opposed the decision to suspend Syria at the OIC.

“By suspending membership, this does not mean that you are moving toward resolving an issue. This means that you are erasing the issue. We want to really resolve the issue,” Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi was quoted by Reuters as having told reporters before the meeting in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

The ministers were holding preparatory talks before a two-day OIC summit in Mecca starting on Tuesday, which was called by Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah earlier this month.

The formal decision on Syria, which requires a two-thirds majority, meaning that Iran alone will not be able to defeat the motion, will be taken by OIC leaders and announced on Wednesday, an OIC diplomat told Reuters.

The decision came on the same day that Syria's Geneva-based U.N. human rights envoy Danny Al-Baaj announced he was defecting to the opposition.

Al-Baaj, the third secretary in the Syrian delegation to the United Nations Human Rights Council and its highest diplomat in the group to defect, announced to reporters that he felt he could no longer do anything more for his nation.

Rebels on Monday downed a Syrian Air Force plane using anti-aircraft weapons. The rebels published a video showing them shooting down the plane and later published a second video showing the man they said was the pilot of the downed plane.

On Sunday, Abdelbasset Sida, head of the Syrian National Council, said that rebels fighting to oust President Bashar al-Assad need the protection of no-fly zones and safe havens patrolled by foreign forces near the borders with Jordan and Turkey.