- Bashar al-Assad - diplomacy - Middle East - Saudi Arabia - Syria
Kuwait, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia recall ambassadors
Hours after Saudi King Abdullah recalled his Syrian ambassador and publicly demanded an end to the violence, Kuwait and Bahrain quickly followed suit Monday as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad faced growing international isolation.
Hours after Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador in Syria, Kuwait and Bahrain followed suit on Monday as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad faced growing isolation over his government’s crackdown on protesters.
Speaking to reporters Monday, Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed al-Salem al-Sabah said Kuwait had recalling its ambassador in Damascus for consultations. "When the number of innocent people killed exceeds 2,000, it is something totally unacceptable," said al-Sabah. "Our ambassador to Syria has been summoned for consultation ... There will be a meeting in the near future for Gulf foreign ministers to discuss the developments in Syria."
The move came as the head of the world’s leading Sunni Muslim authority weighed in on the Syrian crisis Monday, calling for an end to “the tragedy”.
In a statement released Monday afternoon, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the grand imam of the Cairo-based Al-Azhar religious institution said, "Al-Azhar was patient for a long time and avoided talking about the situation in Syria because of its sensitive nature... but the situation has gone too far and there is no other solution but to put an end to this Arab and Islamic tragedy."
Bahrain also recalled its ambassador in Damascus Monday, joining the ranks of Arab states that have broken their months-long silence over the escalating violence in Syria.
The diplomatic responses came as human rights groups said Syrian security forces continued their crackdown in the eastern Syrian city of Deir al-Zor on Monday.
According to the British-based Syrian Observatory, residents of Deir al-Zor said a woman and her two children were killed while trying to flee their neighbourhood for a safer location.
Syria reeling from ‘shock’ of Saudi diplomatic rap
The Syrian regime is likely reeling from “shock” after Saudi Arabia publicly demanded an end to violence in the protest-stricken country and withdrew its ambassador on Monday, according to FRANCE 24’s Lucy Fielder, reporting from the Lebanese capital of Beirut.
The rare move by one of the Arab world’s most powerful leaders will be a bitter pill for the regime in Damascus, said Fielder.
Access to Syria has been severely restricted for international journalists, with several correspondents covering the crisis from neighbouring Lebanon.
Saudi King Abdullah’s call for an end to the bloodshed in Syria is the sharpest criticism the powerful oil producer has directed against any Arab state since popular unrest toppled the regimes in Tunisia and Egypt earlier this year.
“What is happening in Syria is not acceptable to Saudi Arabia,” King Abdullah said in a written statement read out on Al Arabiya satellite television earlier Monday.
Recalling his ambassador to Riyadh “for consultations”, Abdullah urged Damascus to introduce “comprehensive and quick reforms” and branded the crackdown as immoral and in breach of Islamic teaching.
‘The Arab tide is turning’
“Syria was counting on Saudi Arabia’s silence,” Fielder said. “But it is likely that the killing of so many protesters in the holy month of Ramadan became too much for the Saudi royal family and for the country’s powerful clerical establishment.
“Damascus expects criticism from the US and from its old Western adversaries. But this really shows that the Arab tide is turning.”
The crackdown in Syria has become one of the most violent episodes in the wave of unrest that has swept through the Arab world this year. Rights groups say nearly 2,000 have been killed and many thousands more arrested since Syria’s protests began in March.
Syrian activists said on Sunday that regime troops and tanks had attacked the eastern city of Deir al-Zor, killing dozens. Earlier in the week, scores of civilians were killed in besieged Hama, a city where Assad’s father launched a brutal crackdown in the 1980s, killing thousands.
Saudi Arabia’s condemnation of the Syrian crackdown follows an equally rare statement by the Arab League and the Gulf Corporation Council on Sunday that called on Damascus to end its acts of violence against civilians.
Regional heavyweight Turkey, whose foreign minister is due in Damascus on Tuesday, has been voicing its disapproval for months.
While several Arab rulers have opposed Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s crackdown on anti-regime rebels, many have been cautious about criticising other Arab leaders during the wave of protests this year.
“I think these [comments] will ignite the spirit of protesters and give them hope that the international, Saudi, and Islamic, Arab communities are firmly behind them,” Saudi columnist Hussein Shobokshi told Reuters on Monday. “It will give them hope that victory is in sight.”
Meanwhile on Monday, Assad roundly defended his crackdown on "armed terrorist gangs", saying his security forces were defending Syrian citizens, not targeting them.
"To deal with outlaws who cut off roads, seal towns and terrorise residents is the duty of the state, which must defend security and protect the lives of civilians," state news agency SANA quoted him as saying.