Saudi Arabia recalls Syria envoy, Assad further isolated

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Saudi Arabia recalled its envoy to Damascus and the Arab League condemned violence in Syria, leaving President Bashar al-Assad further isolated even as he defended his crackdown on "outlaws."

The surprise move by Riyadh, the Arab world's Sunni Muslim heavyweight, marks a major escalation of international pressure on Assad's regime for its brutal repression of a pro-democracy uprising that has left many hundreds dead.

A leading member of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's party Monday meanwhile called in Berlin for a global boycott of Syrian oil and gas exports to pressure Damascus into renouncing violence against demonstrators.

"Saudi Arabia announces the recall of its ambassador for consultations," King Abdullah said in a statement that came after Syrian security forces had killed more than 50 people on Sunday.

The statement urged Damascus to "stop the killing machine and the bloodshed... before it is too late."

"The kingdom does not accept the situation in Syria, because the developments cannot be justified," Abdullah said, urging "comprehensive and quick reforms".

"The future of Syria lies between two options: either Syria chooses willingly to resort to reason, or faces being swept into deep chaos, God forbid," he said.

The Saudi king branded the crackdown on protests immoral and in breach of Islamic teaching.

"Large numbers of martyrs have fallen, their blood has been shed, and many others have been wounded... This is not in accord with religion, values and morals," he said.

He reminded the Syrian government of Saudi support "in the past" but said that the Gulf kingdom had to take an "historic" decision.

The US envoy to Damascus, Robert Ford, who returned to Syria on Thursday, said in a US television interview on Sunday that Washington will "try to ratchet up the pressure" on Assad's regime.

Ford, who infuriated the Syrian authorities with a visit to the flashpoint protest city of Hama last month, also told ABC news that the violence against protesters was "grotesque" and "abhorrent."

Activists said security forces backed by tanks killed 42 civilians in the eastern city of Deir Ezzor and at least 10 more in the central town of Hula on Sunday.

"Forty-two civilians have been killed and more than 100 wounded in Deir Ezzor by gunfire from the armed forces and security agents," Syrian League for the Defence of Human Rights head Abdel Karim Rihawi told AFP.

In Hula in Homs district, at least 10 people were killed in a military assault, Rihawi said.

"About 25 tanks and troop carriers entered Hula and carried out military operations," another activist, Rami Abdel Rahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said earlier.

The Observatory also reported two civilians shot dead in Idlib in the northwest by security forces firing on mourners at a funeral.

Assad roundly defended his security forces, however.

"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," state news agency SANA quoted him as saying.

SANA also quoted an official military source as dismissing claims that the army was shelling Deir Ezzor with tanks as "completely false and untrue."

The Arab League made its first official statement on the unrest, calling on Damascus to "immediately" stop the violence that has raged since mid-March.

Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi also urged an "impartial probe" into the bloodshed, warning against "chaos" and "religious strife" in Syria, it said.

US and European leaders pledged to consider new steps to punish Syria after security forces killed more than 30 people on the first Friday of Ramadan, the holy Muslim month of fasting.

Syria's government has sought to crush the democracy movement with force, leaving at least 2,059 people dead, including 391 members of the security forces, according to the Syrian Observatory.

The Assad regime has pledged reform and accused "armed terrorist gangs" of fomenting the unrest.

In Berlin, Ruprecht Polenz, chairman of Germany's parliamentary committee on foreign relations, said a boycott of Syrian oil and gas exports should be agreed by the international community as a whole if it were to work.

"We only have economic sanctions left as a means to convince Assad that he must stop the violence and resign," Polenz told public broadcaster Deutschlandradio.


© 2011 AFP

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