In the latest twist to the story of Syria’s disintegration, The Islamist President of Egypt, Mohammed Morsi, has severed diplomatic ties with Syrian leader Bashar-al-Assad. In front of some twenty thousand supporters, Saturday, the new Egyptian leader and head of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood, announced that he had ordered the closing of the Egyptian embassy in the Syrian Capital, Damascus. He also said that he was withdrawing his charge d’affaires from that country. “We decided today to entirely break off relations with Syria and with the current Syrian regime.” Morsi said, according to a Reuters report.
The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is a Sunni group, whilst the Syrian regime of Bashar-al-Assad is Alawite; a branch of Shia Islam.
Morsi has called on the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah to withdraw from Syria. Since entering the civil war, Hezbollah has quickly become Assad’s most effective ally on the ground; helping to gain the upper hand over the fractured Syrian opposition, which – at one point – had the strategic momentum and appeared to be closing in on both the Syrian capital and the reins of power. “We stand against Hezbollah in its aggression against the Syrian people,” the Egyptian leader said. “Hezbollah must leave Syria – these are serious words. There is no space or place for Hezbollah in Syria.”
This diplomatic development comes on the heels of revelations that US President Barack Obama approved steps to supply the Syrian rebels with American weapons. The move is said to be in response to reports that Assad had used chemical weapons against opposition fighters – something that Obama had previously said would be a “red line”.
The conflict in Syria, which began in 2011, has claimed the lives of almost 93,000 people – including some 6,500 children, according to an announcement Thursday by U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.
What started as a revolt against the Syrian dictator has widened into a conflict which threatens to spill over into neighboring Lebanon. Hezbollah’s involvement has put Lebanon in the cross-hairs of the Syrian rebels, who include al-Qaeda. On more than one occasion already, Hezbollah strongholds in Lebanon have been shelled by the rebels and clashes between them and Hezbollah fighters have taken place both on the border and inside Lebanese territory.
On a wider scale, Russia and Iran are backing the Assad regime and some observers fear that the announcement, by the US administration, that American arms will be supplied to the rebels will amount to a proxy war between the US and Russia. Israel also risks being drawn into the fight, with tensions in the disputed Golan Heights increasing and Israeli airstrikes against suspected arms shipments from Syria to Hezbollah bases in Lebanon. Israel fears that Hezbollah is using the Syrian war as cover to obtain advanced missiles from the Syrian regime that will then be deployed against Israel.
In addition to severing diplomatic ties with Syrian leader Assad, Morsi backed the idea of a no-fly zone to assist the Syrian rebels. The US appears reluctant to take such a step and Russia has said that any steps to impose a no-fly zone would be illegal.
Written by Graham J Noble