Egypt firmly backs Syria change

2012-02-15 22:32

Cairo - Egypt called on Wednesday for change in Syria that met its people's demands, Cairo's strongest language yet on the crisis, though it ruled out supporting outside military intervention.

Egypt has backed Arab League resolutions demanding President Bashar Assad step aside but diplomats say it is wary of a diplomatic push from Gulf states, whose latest plan to end the crisis could open the door to arms shipments to the opposition.

"The situation in Syria is deteriorating quickly... The time has come for the required change to avoid a complete explosion in the situation in Syria," Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr said.

Egypt has long been a driving force in the region but has kept a lower profile on Syria as it deals with its own political turmoil. In contrast, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have been flexing their diplomatic muscles, keen to end Assad's alliance with regional rival Iran.

Amr called for "peaceful and real change that responds to the aspirations of the Syrian people" and the implementation of an Arab peace plan. But he said the crisis needed an Arab solution and "rejected military intervention".

Commenting on the statement, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Amr Rushdy said: "This is the strongest language used from Egypt to describe the situation in Syria but Egypt does not want any military intervention from any party."

Western states launched air strikes on Libya during an uprising there but have shown no appetite for similar action in Syria, and Russia and China have used their veto powers to block a UN Security Council resolution based on the Arab peace plan.

Peacekeeping force

That double veto prompted Arab League ministers, pushed by Qatar and Saudi Arabia, to approve a resolution at a meeting on Sunday in Cairo that sent the issue back to the United Nations with a call for a UN-Arab peacekeeping force.

They also called for offering political and "material support" for the opposition, language that diplomats said left room for Arabs to supply weapons in future, if they chose. Diplomats said Egypt was uncomfortable with the language.

Although Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in a popular uprising last year, army generals who backed him are still in charge and are wary of any intervention in Arab states.

Egypt will join other Arab states and Western powers in Tunisia on February 24 at a meeting of the so-called "Friends of Syria" group, a gathering aimed at seeking to build international cooperation after the UN veto.

Rushdy said Egypt would be there to emphasise support for the Arab peace plan, which includes a call for Assad to hand power to a deputy who would start talks with the opposition. Assad's opponents have rejected any such discussions.

The meeting may also discuss whether they should recognise the opposition, rather than Assad, although diplomats say divisions in the opposition ranks and question marks over whether the biggest grouping, the Syrian National Council, represented people inside Syria could hinder such recognition