President Muhammad Morsi has announced he has cut all of Egypt’s ties to the Syrian government and has called for world powers to impose a no-fly zone over Syria to help protect Syrian opposition supporters.
In a speech June 15 to Sunni Muslim clerics in Cairo, Morsi also demanded that Iranian-backed Lebanese Shi'ite Hizballah militants, who have been fighting on the side of the Syrian regime, leave Syria.
“Hizballah must leave Syria -- these are serious words," said Morsi, who is backed by the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood. "There is no space or place for Hizballah in Syria."
Morsi aligned Egypt firmly with the Syrian opposition, saying Egypt was closing Syria’s embassy in Cairo and recalling Egypt’s charge d’affaires from Damascus.
"The Syrian people are facing a campaign of extermination and planned ethnic cleansing, fed by regional and international states who do not care for the Syrian citizen," said Morsi.
The president’s speech came two days after the United States said it is ready to start providing arms to the Syrian rebels.
That decision was announced at the same time the U.S. said it had found evidence that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons against rebel forces.
Washington, however, has played down the possibility of imposing a no-fly zone over Syria, saying it would be a dangerous and costly undertaking.
Syrian rebel forces have recently suffered a series of battlefield setbacks, including losing the town of Qusair, near the Lebanese border, after Hizballah militants joined a government offensive.
Eygpt receives billions of dollars in U.S. aid, including equipment and training for its armed forces. But there has been no suggestion that Egyptian forces could become involved in the Syrian conflict.
In another development, the United States said it will keep Patriot air-defense missiles and F-16 jet fighters in Jordan after the conclusion of joint U.S.-Jordanian military exercises.
The Pentagon said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had approved a request from the Jordanian government for the F-16s and Patriot missiles to remain in Jordan after the “Eager Lion” exercises end next week.
Officials say the U.S. forces could be used to protect Jordan from any spillover of the Syrian war. Jordan currently hosts hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees.
Russia -- a key ally of the Syrian government, along with Iran -- has said it is concerned the U.S. missiles and planes in Jordan could be used to impose a no-fly zone over Syria.
Syria is expected to feature in talks due June 17 in Northern Ireland between U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin. They are scheduled to meet at the Group of Eight leading industrial powers summit.
Moscow and Washington recently launched a joint initiative aimed at bringing the Syrian warring parties together for peace talks.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, however, said the chances for a political settlement appeared more remote because of the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons.
The State Department said that “the United States continues to work aggressively for a political solution” in Syria.
However, the statement said Kerry believes that “the use of chemical weapons and increasing involvement of Hizballah demonstrates the regime’s lack of commitment to negotiations and threatens to put a political settlement out of reach.”
The statement said Kerry made his remarks during telephone call with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari.
The Syrian government has condemned Egypt's decision to cut ties with Damascus as "irresponsible." An official government statement quoted by state media also accused Morsi of involvement in a "conspiracy" against Syria.
Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP