MANAMA, Bahrain — Bahrain and Kuwait joined Saudi Arabia in recalling their ambassadors to Syria on Monday, further isolating Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad as he continues a bloody crackdown on anti-government protesters.
He added that the foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) - a body that includes Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates - will meet soon to discuss the Syrian crisis.
Syria on Monday continued its assault on the eastern town of Deir el-Zour, a day after Syrian troops killed 42 people there.
Mr. Assad also replaced Defense Minister Gen. Ali Habib with Gen. Dawoud Rajha, the army chief of staff. The SANA official news agency reported that Gen. Habib stepped down for health reasons, but some analysts suspected he resigned because he opposed the bloody crackdown on protesters.
Regional diplomatic pressure on Mr. Assad has escalated since Sunday night, when Saudi King Abdullah announced the recall of his ambassador via a statement to state television.
The king said that was “no justification for the bloodshed” and urged the Syrian government to “end the death machine” and enact “comprehensive reforms” quickly.
Syrian forces have killed more than 1,700 civilians since anti-government protests began in March, according to human rights activists.
In Bahrain, which has faced its own anti-government protests, the predominantly Shiite opposition seized on the Gulf states’ recall of ambassadors as evidence of a double standard.
Khalil Marzooq, a leader of the Wefaq Islamic Society, - Bahrain’s largest opposition bloc - complained about the Bahraini government protesting the crackdown in Syria when it allowed a 1,000-man force of mostly Saudi troops in March to put down demonstrations in the kingdom.
More than 30 protesters have been killed by Bahraini and GCC forces since the mass protests began on Feb. 14. An independent inquiry led by Egyptian-American war-crimes prosecutor Cherif Bassiouni is currently investigating to what degree government officials hold responsibility for the deaths.
“Let them not show they are angels with other nations and devils with their people,” he said.
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.
© Copyright 2013 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
Ben Birnbaum is a reporter covering foreign affairs for The Washington Times. Prior to joining The Times, Birnbaum worked as a reporter-researcher at the New Republic. A Boston-area native, he graduated magna cum laude from Cornell University with a degree in government and psychology. He won multiple collegiate journalism awards for his articles and columns in the Cornell Daily Sun.
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