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Pressure Grows On Syria After Saudi King Criticizes Crackdown


A video grab from Internet video purporting to show protesters carrying a man thought to be a dead protester in Homs. (undated)
Persian Gulf states Kuwait and Bahrain have recalled their ambassadors to Damascus as Syrian security forces continued their bloody crackdown on antigovernment protesters.

The moves came a day after Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah broke the silence among Arab rulers about the crackdown in Syria, recalling his ambassador and calling for an end to the violence.

Kuwait's Foreign Minister Sheikh Muhammad al-Salim al-Sabah said he would meet his counterparts across the region to discuss what he called "totally unacceptable" violence against Syrian protesters by Assad's regime.

Also, Sunni Islam's foremost authority at Al-Azhar University joined the growing number of calls from within the Arab world for an end to the "tragedy" in Syria.

The head of the Cairo-based institution, Al-Azhar Grand Imam Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, said in a statement that the situation had gone too far.

"Al-Azhar was patient for a long time and avoided talking about the situation in Syria because of its sensitive nature," Tayeb said, "but...there is no other solution but to put an end to this Arab and Islamic tragedy."

Despite the rebukes, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has extended a tank onslaught in Syria's Sunni Muslim tribal heartland.

Human rights activists say at least 300 people have been killed in Syria by Assad's troops during the past week alone. Altogether, thousands are thought to have been killed.

Assad blames armed gangs for the unrest, which at times has brought hundreds of thousands of demonstrators out into the streets of cities across Syria.

Criticism of Assad's regime has been growing in the Arab world since Syrian tanks and troops began to pour into the eastern Sunni city of Deir al-Zour early on August 7.

Some 200 government tanks reportedly moved into the eastern city of Deir el-Zour and the central city of Homs, while government forces have also tightened their grip on Hama, an early hotbed of opposition activity.

Syria's state television on August 8 reported that Assad had appointed a new defense minister. General Daood Rajha, who was the army's chief of staff, replaces General Ali Habib in the post.

The move comes ahead a visit to Damascus by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, amid rising tensions between the two neighbors.

Assad has vowed to continue the operations against opposition demonstrators, describing them as "outlaws" and saying predawn raids on two opposition-held cities was part of the government's "duty to protect the security and lives of its citizens."

Two Paths: 'Wisdom Or Turmoil'

Those deployments mark the latest stage of Damascus's campaign to crush protests against 41 years of rule by the Assad family and political domination in Syria by Assad's Alawite minority community.

On August 7, King Abdullah responded by recalling the Saudi ambassador from Damascus and demanded an end to the bloodshed. "What is happening in Syria is not acceptable to Saudi Arabia," he said.

Abdullah's written statement was read out by news presenters on the Saudi-owned Arabic-language satellite television channel Al-Arabiyah.

"The Syrian authority is capable of implementing speedy and comprehensive reforms," the statement said. "Syria's future lies between two options: either it chooses wisdom on its own or it will be pulled down into the depths of turmoil and loss."

Abdullah also said, "Syria should think wisely before it's too late and issue and enact reforms that are not merely promises but actual reforms."

Arab Rulers Speak Up

It was the sharpest criticism Saudi Arabia has directed against any Arab state since a tide of pro-democracy unrest began to sweep across the Arab world in January -- toppling autocratic regimes in Tunisia and Egypt, unleashing civil war in Libya, and shaking up entrenched Arab elites throughout the region.

Similar messages were issued during the weekend by the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council. The 22-member Arab League, which had been silent since the uprising began, said on August 7 that it was "alarmed" by the situation in Syria and called for the immediate halt of all violence.

Jordan's Foreign Minister Nasser Judah, meanwhile, called the escalation of violence in Syria "disturbing."

Turkey, Syria's key trading partner and neighbor, also has criticized the military crackdown by Assad's regime.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey had "run out of patience" with Assad's regime. Erdogan said he is sending his foreign minister to Damascus on August 9 to deliver a strong message against the crackdown.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has asked Turkey's foreign minister to press Syria to "return its military to the barracks" during his upcoming visit to Syria.

Ankara, whose ties with Damascus have flourished in recent years, has called on President Assad to initiate reforms but has stopped short of calling for his departure.

compiled from agency reports