Saudi Arabia, Egypt Call for Peaceful Handover in Syria

Saudi Arabia and Egypt called for a “peaceful handover” of power in Syria, signalling closer cooperation as violence mounts with more than 60,000 people reported killed since the protests against President Bashar al-Assad began nearly two years ago.

“A peaceful exit is an Arab and international demand,” Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal told reporters today in Riyadh after talks with his Egyptian counterpart, Mohamed Kamel Amr. “It is up to the Syrian people to decide the conditions of the exit from power” of al-Assad.

Amr called for “stepping up the efforts to achieve a peaceful handover of power.”

It’s the first time Saudi Arabia, the largest Arab economy, and Egypt, the most populous Arab state, have made a joint call for Assad to step down, signalling closer cooperation on the Syrian situation, Khalid al-Dakhil, a professor of political studies at King Saud University in Riyadh, said.

“They see how important the fall of the Syrian regime is on an Arab and regional level,” he said today in a telephone interview.

Saudi Arabia stayed away from a foreign ministers’ meeting on Syria held in September in Cairo at the invitation of Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, with the participation of Iran, which supports Assad, and Turkey, which supports the rebellion. Participants failed to agree on a compromise.

Pilot Defects

At least 60,000 people have been killed in the conflict that began as peaceful protests, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said Jan. 2.

A Syrian pilot defected today to Turkey and landed with his MiG-23 military jet at Adana airport, Al-Jazeera channel reported. The Syria Observatory for Human Rights said the Syrian army shelled districts around the capital Damascus and villages in the central province of Hama.

Saudi Arabia’s Al-Faisal renewed accusations that Iran is “interfering in the internal affairs of the states of the region,” and criticized Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, its Shiite Muslim ally, without naming him.

“Iraq’s security will not stabilize before it moves away from its sectarian policy,” he said.

Iraqi opponents of Maliki have been holding street protests in various regions with mostly Sunni Arab and Kurdish populations. Many Sunnis, Kurds and followers of Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr have demanded to share more power.

Twenty-one Iranians aboard two boats were arrested by Saudi coast guards off the Saudi city of Al Khafji in the Persian Gulf, Saudi newspaper Asharq al-Awsat said today. Coast guard spokesman Colonel Khalid al-Arqoubi told the newspaper the detainees will be investigated to establish whether they are fishermen.

Syrian state television on Jan. 2 said the oil ministers of Iraq, Syria and Iran will meet in Baghdad this month to discuss the construction of a natural-gas pipeline to supply Syria with the fuel from Iran through Iraq.

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