Saudi Arabia withdraws ambassador from Syria
BBC News, 8 August 2011
Saudi Arabia says it is withdrawing its ambassador from Syria in protest against the crackdown on Syrian anti-government demonstrators.
In a statement broadcast across the Arab world, King Abdullah said the violence was “unacceptable”.
It came hours after the Arab League issued its first official condemnation of the repression in Syria.
The BBC’s Middle East correspondent says the move is a major escalation in international pressure on Damascus.
“The kingdom of Saudi Arabia… demands an end to the death machine and bloodshed and calls for acts of wisdom before it is too late,” King Abdullah said in a statement broadcast by al-Arabiya television.
“What is happening in Syria is not acceptable for Saudi Arabia. Either it (Syria) chooses wisdom on its own or it will be pulled down into the depths of turmoil and loss.”
BBC Middle East correspondent Jon Leyne says the statement seems to be a co-ordinated move, following the Arab League’s own communique on Syria.
The 22-member league said it was “alarmed” by the situation in the country and called for an immediate end to the violence.
The six-nation Gulf Co-operation Council also issued its first comments about the unrest on Sunday, condemning the “excessive use of force” and calling for an “immediate end to the violence”.
Our correspondent says the latest developments leave Syrian President Bashar al-Assad even more isolated.
A US State Department official said the Saudi statement was “another clear sign that the international community, including Syria’s neighbours, are repulsed by the brutal actions of the Syrian government”.
The timing and choice of channel for King Abdullah’s statement seem deliberately designed to reach the maximum audience in Syria and across the Arab world – at peak viewing time during the holy month of Ramadan.
Earlier, there was more condemnation from the Pope and the US ambassador to Damascus.
But this is a huge change in policy from Saudi Arabia, which had been seen as supporting the status quo.
More than 80 people were reported killed as violence continued across Syria on Sunday.
Activists said at least 50 people died when troops stormed Deir al-Zour, the largest city in the east of the country.
Other deaths were reported in central Homs province and in Idlib in the north-west.
The Local Co-ordination Committees, an activist group that documents and organises protests in Syria, said that after sunset on Sunday, thousands of protesters poured on to the streets in towns and cities including the capital Damascus, its suburbs, the central city of Homs, Latakia on the Mediterranean coast and northern city of Aleppo.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is to visit Damascus on Tuesday.
In a sign that diplomatic tension between the two neighbours was rising, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Mr Davutoglu would deliver a “tough message”.
But one of Mr Assad’s top advisers said he would be given an even tougher message to take home.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke to President Assad by telephone on Saturday, urging him to stop the use of military force against protesters and to allow humanitarian missions into his country.
Last week the UN Security Council also called on the Syrian leader to stop the violence.
President Assad has insisted that his government is enacting reforms. He blames the violence on “armed” gangs” which he says are backed by foreign powers.
“Syria is on the path to reform,” he was quoted as telling Lebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour by the state news agency, Sana.
“To deal with outlaws who cut off roads, seal towns and terrorise residents is a duty of the state, which must defend security and protect the lives of civilians,” he added.