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Gulf states issue warnings to Syria and Iran | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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RIYADH, (AFP) — Gulf Arab states on Tuesday urged Syria’s government to immediately halt its “killing machine”, and called on arch rival Iran to stop interfering in their internal affairs.

The six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council also pledged to implement comprehensive reforms and strengthen economic and military integration as a first step towards forming a union.

In a statement issued at the end of their annual summit, held in Riyadh against the backdrop of the Arab uprisings, the GCC members called on Syria to “immediately halt its killing machine.”

They appealed for Damascus to “put an end to bloodshed, lift all signs of armed conflict and release prisoners, as a first step towards implementing the (Arab) protocol”.

Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Maqdad signed the accord on Monday after weeks of prevarication in the hope that now the Arab League will lift sweeping sanctions against the regime.

The plan, endorsed by Syria on November 2, also calls for a complete halt to the violence, releasing detainees and the complete withdrawal of the military from towns and residential districts.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told reporters: “If there was goodwill when the protocol was signed then these steps must be immediately taken,” adding the Arab initiative was “proposed to prevent a civil war”.

On Tuesday, at least 100 mutinous soldiers were killed or wounded in clashes with Syrian loyalist troops, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported a day after up to 70 deserters were gunned down while trying to flee their posts.

According to the latest UN figures, more than 5,000 Syrian civilians have been killed in the government crackdown on anti-regime demonstrators since mid-March.

The GCC meanwhile called on Iran to stop meddling in the internal affairs of the group’s members.

“Stop these policies and practises… and stop interfering in the internal affairs” of the Gulf nations, said the summit’s closing statement, expressing concern over attempts by the Islamic republic to “instigate sectarian strife.”

The Gulf bloc also called on the Shiite nation to “fully cooperate” with the International Atomic Energy Agency and work to resolve regional conflicts “peacefully,” adding GCC members were committed to a Middle East “free of weapons of mass destruction.”

The West fears Iran’s nuclear programme masks a push to develop an atomic weapons capability, a charge Tehran denies.

Saudi-Iranian relations have deteriorated since 1,000 Gulf troops entered Bahrain to help the Sunni monarchy there crush a Shiite-led uprising in February and March.

Thousands of Bahrainis took to the streets demanding democratic reforms in February, inspired by the revolutions that tossed out long-time dictators in Tunisia and Egypt.

Government security forces, boosted by the Saudi-led Gulf troops, brutally put down the Shiite-led protests, infuriating Iran.

The already tense Saudi-Iranian relations took a turn for the worse when US justice officials announced in October that they had foiled an Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington.

Though the Iranian intelligence chief was in Riyadh last week to clear up “misunderstandings” regarding the alleged assassination plot, tensions between the two nations remain high.

On Monday, the last of American troops withdrew from Shiite-dominated Iraq, further heightening Gulf concerns over growing Iranian and Shiite influence in the region.

The Gulf Arab nations, with the exception of Bahrain, for the most part evaded the turmoil of the Arab Spring.

In Saudi Arabia, however, Sunni-Shiite tensions have risen with several Shiite demonstrators from the kingdom’s Eastern Province killed in anti-government protests.

Saudi Arabia, like Bahrain, accuses Iran of instigating the unrest among the Shiites in their country.

In response to the region’s unprecedented upheaval, GCC chief Abdullatif al-Zayani said the group’s six members agreed to “adopt Saudi King Abdullah’s initiative to make the GCC countries a single entity”.

On Monday, King Abdullah asked the GCC leadership to “move from a phase of cooperation to a phase of union,” arguing the region’s “security and stability are threatened” and that such challenges require “vigilance and a united stance.”

The group also announced the establishment of a development fund worth about five billion dollars for Jordan and Morocco, though it did not clarify whether either nation would join the alliance of oil-rich monarchies.

The GCC, which comprises Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, has remained an exclusive club since its inception in 1981.

Jordan and Morocco are the only Arab kingdoms not in the GCC.

No practical measures have yet been taken to enrol them in the group, despite a GCC proposal in May that both countries join.