Ehud Barak at the World Policy Conference in Vienna - Ariel Hermoni.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak at the World Policy Conference in Vienna, December 11, 2011. Photo by Ariel Hermoni, Defense Ministry
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Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Sunday that the downfall of Syrian President Bashar Assad would be a “blessing for the Middle East."

Speaking at the World Policy Conference in Vienna, Barak predicted that Assad and his clique would be forced out of power within weeks.

Barak additionally discussed sanctions against Iran and its nuclear program, saying there is still time for crippling world sanctions on Iran's energy sector and its leadership to force Tehran to give up nuclear programs that could be used to make such arms.

Syrian security forces on Sunday killed at least 18 people in several areas of the country that observed a general strike to protest the government's crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, said the Local Coordination Committees in Syria, an opposition online group.

Sunday also saw hundreds of army defectors in southern Syria fought armored loyalist forces Sunday in the biggest armed confrontations in the nine-month uprising against President Bashar Assad, residents and activists said.

The Arab League said Sunday it would meet in "seven or 10 days" to discuss the situation in Syria. 

"There is an agreement until now that the Syrian crisis should be solved within an Arab framework," said the head of the pan-Arab organization Nabil al-Arabi, in the Qatari capital Doha.

He added that the exact date of the meeting of the Cairo-based bloc's foreign ministers had yet to be set.

Al-Arabi told reporters that economic sanctions endorsed by the Arab League were to take effect starting on December 27.

The organization ordered the unprecedented sanctions on Damascus last month and said they would be lifted once Syria allowed Arab monitors into the country.

Syria set lifting the sanctions as a condition for agreeing to receive observers.