The six member nations of the Gulf Co-operation Council say they are pulling their ambassadors from Syria immediately because of President Bashar al-Assad’s refusal to accept Arab attempts to end the country’s bloodshed.
The move will further isolate the Syrian regime, as Western nations also withdraw their ambassadors. On Monday, the U.S. pulled its embassy staff from Damascus, and the U.K. and France followed by recalling their ambassadors for “consultation.”
The statement was carried by the official news agency in Kuwait, one of the GCC states. The others are Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. It also says the countries are asking Syria to recall its ambassadors from their countries.
Listen to The Current: Syrian-Canadians on how to stop the bloodshed.
The Gulf states have led Arab pressure on Assad to end his government’s attacks on opposition groups.
Earlier Tuesday, Russia’s foreign minister held talks with Assad in Damascus, even as Assad’s forces renewed their assault on the flashpoint southern city of Homs.
Sergey Lavrov’s visit comes days after Syrian allies Russia and China vetoed a Western- and Arab-backed resolution at the United Nations Security Council that would have condemned the Assad regime’s crackdown on dissent and called on him to transfer some of his powers to his deputy.
Thousands of Syrians, many waving Russian flags in an apparently orchestrated effort, welcomed Lavrov as he arrived in Damascus and his convoy drove from the airport to the presidential palace to meet Assad. Accompanying him was Russia’s foreign intelligence chief Mikhail Fradkov.
Russia is basking in its popularity among Assad supporters for its stance at the Security Council.
5,400 people killed
According to Russian news agencies Novosti and ITAR-Tass, Lavrov told Assad that it was important that Arab nations “live in peace and harmony” and that “each leader in each country ought to be aware of their share of responsibility. You are aware of yours.”
More than 5,400 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising began in March, the UN said last month.
Hundreds more are believed to have been killed since then, but the UN says the chaos in the country has made it impossible to cross-check the figures.
Dmitri Trenin of the Carnegie Moscow Centre said Russia’s skepticism about international intervention in Syria stems from its view of the anti-government protesters, the CBC’s Derek Stoffel reported Tuesday.
“The Russians believe that it’s not simply the case of the government killing its people,” Trenin said. “They see that the opposition includes a number of people who are armed, and who are shooting at the soldiers. And it’s more like a civil war situation.”
Russia may be the largest supplier of weapons to Syria, but Moscow insists the Assad regime is not an ally, Stoffel reported.
Also Tuesday, France’s foreign ministry announced it was recalling its ambassador to Syria for consultations because of the continued attacks by the Assad regime on the population. The French Embassy in Damascus will remain open, however.
Tuesday’s announcement came after other Western powers, including Britain, the United States and Italy, called back their top envoys in the wake of new violence in Syria.
It was the second time in three months that France had recalled Ambassador Eric Chevallier to Paris. In November, the country briefly closed consular and cultural posts in Syria over a new upsurge in violence.
Syrian allies Russia and China vetoed on Saturday a Western- and Arab-backed resolution at the United Nations condemning the Assad regime’s crackdown on dissent and calling on him to transfer some of his powers to his deputy. The Syrian government had earlier rejected the Arab plan as intervention in Syria’s internal affairs.
Bolstered by the Russian and Chinese vetoes, government troops stepped up an assault on Homs, where Syrian government forces, using tanks and machine-guns, pressed ahead Tuesday in a push to recover rebel-held districts.
On Monday, troops shelled a makeshift medical clinic and residential areas, killing nearly 70 people, activists said. More than a dozen others were reported killed elsewhere.
‘A foreign conspiracy’
Syria has blocked access to trouble spots and prevented independent reporting, making it nearly impossible to verify accounts from either side.
The Assad regime says terrorists acting out a foreign conspiracy to destabilize the country are behind the uprising, not people seeking to transform the authoritarian regime.
Western nations strongly differ.
“This is a doomed regime as well as a murdering regime,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague told lawmakers Monday. “There is no way it can recover its credibility internationally.”
U.S. President Barack Obama said the Syrian leader’s departure is only a matter of time.
“We have been relentless in sending a message that it is time for Assad to go,” Obama said during an interview with NBC. “This is not going to be a matter of if, it’s going to be a matter of when.”