Syria draft law would 'impose visas' on Arabs

Syrian authorities have prepared a draft law under which previously exempt Arab nationals will now need a visa to visit the country, a pro-regime newspaper reported on Monday.

Parliament will discuss "a draft law that regulate the entry and residence of Arabs and foreigners", Al-Watan said.

If approved, the law would require "any person entering or leaving Syria to hold a valid passport" which "would need to be stamped with a visa from one of our diplomatic missions or consulates abroad".

Citizens of from countries neighbouring Syria that have "special, bilateral or international agreements to which Syria is a party" are exempt, Al-Watan said.

Arabs and other foreigners visiting Syria will have to explain the reason for their visit and state their place of residence in the strife-torn country, in addition to proving their solvency, it said.

Those convicted of violating the law would face six months to two years in jail and a fine of 50,000 to 100,000 Syrian pounds ($350 to $700).

Anyone caught trying to enter via an illegal crossing will be subject to the same penalties, the report said.

Rebels fighting to topple Assad have taken over several border crossings on the frontiers with Turkey and Iraq.

Nationals of countries "in a state of war" with Syria, or that have severed diplomatic relations with Damascus during the conflict, would have to pay a higher penalty of 50,000 to 200,000 pounds ($350 to $1,400) for not having a valid visa, said the paper.

They would also be jailed for between one and three years.

Anyone caught "entering or leaving Syria illegally, or found at a border area without a valid reason" would also face a year to five years in prison, Al-Watan said.

President Bashar al-Assad's regime has repeatedly blamed violence in the country on "terrorists" entering Syria illegally.

Most Arab states oppose Assad's regime, and in March 2013 its Arab League seat was transferred to the opposition National Coalition.