Syrian death toll passes 2,000

The Guardian reports:

Syria defied Arab isolation and mounting international anger on Monday as President Bashar al-Assad’s security forces continued attacks on pro-democracy protesters across the country.

The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, urged al-Assad to return his troops to barracks and release all prisoners, one of the bluntest demands yet made of the Syrian leader, after regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia led a rare chorus of Arab states in condemning the repression.

Reports from Deir al-Zor described artillery and heavy machinegun fire and snipers on roofs as troops and intelligence agents carried out mass arrests in the north-eastern city. On Sunday, 42 people were killed there, nudging the death total during five months of the uprising to more than 2,000.

Brian Whitaker writes:

Saudi Arabia has become the first Arab country to take a firm stand against the Syrian regime’s killing of civilians. In a statement issued late on Sunday night, King Abdullah demanded an end to the bloodshed and announced that the kingdom was recalling its ambassador from Damascus.

There are only two options for Syria, the king said: “Either it chooses wisdom willingly, or drifts into the depths of chaos and loss.” He called for “quick and comprehensive reforms” – “reforms that are not entwined with promises, but actually achieved so that our brothers the citizens in Syria can feel them in their lives”.

These are the strongest comments made so far by any Arab leader, and on that basis we should probably welcome them – especially if they encourage other countries in the region to take a stand. But, as one Twitter user noted, the king’s denunciation of the Assad regime does make him sound a bit like Al Capone condemning the Kray twins.

Back home, King Abdullah has shown no inclination towards the “quick and comprehensive reforms” that he is now urging upon Syria; Saudi Arabia has nothing to teach Syria about democracy, and protest demonstrations in the kingdom are totally banned. So the king’s message to Syria betrays more than a little irony.

Perhaps more troubling, though, is the negative role that Saudi Arabia has been playing during the “Arab spring” – a role that now it seems to be extending to include Syria.

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