DEIR EL-ZOUR, Syria, Aug. 8 (UPI) — Saudi Arabia demanded Syria end the bloodshed Monday and recalled its ambassador after troops killed nearly 70 people in a single day of military assaults.
“What is happening in Syria is not acceptable for Saudi Arabia,” King Abdullah said in a statement read over the Saudi-owned al-Arabiya news channel.
“Syria should think wisely before it’s too late and issue and enact reforms that are not merely promises but actual reforms. Either it chooses wisdom on its own or it will be pulled down into the depths of turmoil and loss,” said Abdullah, whose own monarchy bans political opposition and supplied troops to neighboring Bahrain to repress anti-government protests.
“The kingdom does not accept the situation in Syria because the developments cannot be justified,” Abdullah said, insisting Damascus introduce “comprehensive and quick reforms.”
“The future of Syria lies between two options — either Syria chooses willingly to resort to reason, or [it will] face being swept into deep chaos, God forbid,” he said.
Abdullah’s rebuke and warning — the sharpest criticism the oil giant has directed against any Arab state since the December start of the Arab Spring protests that toppled Tunisian and Egyptian autocrats and roiled the Middle East — followed an increasingly widespread surge of condemnation of Syrian President Bashar Assad Sunday, including from the Arab League to the pope.
The 22-member league, which had been silent in the five months since the uprising began, said Sunday it was “alarmed” by the bloodshed. It called on Syrian authorities to stop attacking protesters and demanded an immediate halt to the violence.
A league appeal in March for international intervention in Libya laid the groundwork for NATO’s bombing campaign against leader Moammar Gadhafi. But with Syria, the league has so far specifically asked the West to stay out.
Pope Benedict XVI called on Assad to respond properly and adequately to the Syrian people’s “legitimate aspirations,” adding he had “deep concern” about “Syria’s dramatic and increasing episodes of violence,” which he said had led to “numerous victims and grave suffering.”
Turkey, which borders Syria and until recently was a close ally and a major trading partner, said it had “run out of patience” and would send its foreign minister to the Syrian capital Damascus Tuesday to deliver a strong message against the crackdown.
Syrian officials said he would receive a brusque response.
U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford said Sunday Washington would “try to ratchet up the pressure” on Assad’s regime.
More than 250 Syrian tanks and armored vehicles Sunday laid waste to the country’s biggest northeastern city and oil capital, Deir el-Zour, which has been under siege for days, in a brutal predawn offensive that also included snipers positioned on rooftops picking off “anything that moves,” said the activist Local Coordination Committees, which tracks the uprising and organizes some protests. Nearly 50 people were killed, activists claimed.
Thousands had fled the city of about 511,000, the activists said. A family of six trying to escape — a couple with four children — were among the dead, they said.
Syrian tanks also shelled Houleh, a town in central Syria’s Homs province that had also seen large protests, killing about 20, the activists said.
More than 300 people have died in the past week, the bloodiest in the five-month uprising, the activists said. More than 2,000 have been killed in the crackdown so far, some human-rights groups say.
Assad’s government disputes the toll and blames a foreign conspiracy for the unrest, which at times has brought hundreds of thousands of protesters into the streets.
The regime intensified the crackdown July 31 on the eve of the holy month of Ramadan, in which many Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, then eat meals and gather in mosques for nightly prayers.
The government has been trying to prevent the large mosque gatherings from turning into more anti-government protests, al-Jazeera reported.