Major European states and members of the Gulf Cooperation Council have announced they are withdrawing their ambassadors from Syria as the death toll continues to rise in violence between Syrian government forces and government opponents.
The six-member Gulf Cooperation Council announced it also will expel envoys from the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. A council statement condemned "mass slaughter against the unarmed Syrian people."
Italy, France, Spain, and the Netherlands also announced that they are recalling their ambassadors to Syria, following similar announcements on February 6 by the United States and Britain.
French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said the move was a "message" to Damascus.
"It's a message we are also sending to the regime of Damascus to express our condemnation of what is going on on the ground," Valero said.
Meanwhile, German authorities announced
that they had arrested two men on suspicion they were spying on Syrian opposition groups in Germany.
Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, meanwhile slammed efforts to "poison" relations between his country and the Arab world after Russia's veto of the UN Security Council resolution on the Syria crisis. At a news conference at the UN in New York, Churkin implied that Western ambassadors were seeking to create hostility between Russia and Arab countries.
"The very exaggerated, emotional, and sometime rude reaction from our Western colleagues -- well, they may have their purposes in mind, but I think the side effect or maybe purpose of those reactions is to create some hostility toward Russia in the Arab world," Churkin said. "And that, of course, is not appreciated."
The moves came with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Damascus for talks with Assad aimed at ending the 11-month conflict between antigovernment militants and Syrian security forces.
Lavrov said Assad was committed to ending the violence in his country and would soon announce a timetable for a national referendum on constitutional reforms.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (left) welcomed Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Damascus on February 7.
Lavrov added that Assad gave assurances that he was prepared for talks with all political forces in Syria. Earlier in the week, Moscow offered to host talks between the Syrian government and opposition forces. That offer was accepted by Damascus but rejected by the opposition, which views Moscow as an ally of Assad's.
For his part, Lavrov expressed Moscow's readiness to help resolve the crisis in Syria on the basis of "the positions laid out in the Arab League initiative."
"We have confirmed our readiness to help in every way to end the crisis as soon as possible on the basis of the positions contained in the initiative of the League of Arab States that was put forward on the 2nd of November," Lavrov said. "Specifically as provided for by the above-mentioned initiative, the president of Syria assured us that he is fully committed to the task of stopping violence wherever it may come from."
On February 4, Russia and China vetoed a proposed UN Security Council resolution drafted by the Arab League that called on Assad to step down.
Despite Assad's pledge to end the violence, the Syrian Interior Ministry said it would continue engaging "terrorist groups" in and around the city of Homs until security is restored.
Syrian activists say around 100 civilians were killed in the Homs area on February 6. That information could not be independently verified.
The Syrian Interior Ministry statement said six security troops have been killed and 11 wounded in the Homs operation.
New Moves Afoot
In Ankara, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said he is working on a new initiative on the Syrian crisis together with "those countries who stand by the Syrian people, not the regime."
A video grab shows the funeral of people killed in Maaret al-Noman in the flashpoint northern Idlib province.
The European Union continued talks on possible new sanctions against Syria's central bank.
"There is a long way to go yet, but we're looking at economic measures which will tighten further the Syrian regime's access to sources of finance," an unnamed EU official was quoted by AFP news agency as saying.
A spokesman for the 27-member European Union said the bloc has no plans to withdraw the head of its delegation in Damascus, saying it must maintain a presence to monitor developments.
The Gulf Cooperation Council comprises Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates.
Compiled from agency reports