Egyptian lawmakers on Sunday responded to a decision to withdraw Cairo’s ambassador to Damascus by urging the ruling military council to take further steps and break all ties with the Syrian regime in response to what they said was President Bashar al-Assad’s crimes against his people.
Speaker of the new People’s Assembly Mohamed Saad Katatni asked the Assembly’s Committee for Arab Affairs to discuss the lawmakers’ demands and present its recommendations during the next Assembly meeting.
Egypt’s foreign ministry had recalled its ambassador to Damascus on Sunday, in what appeared to be the latest step in a series of Arab diplomatic moves to intensify pressure on President Assad, who is trying to crush a popular uprising in Syria.
State news agency MENA said the decision was made after a visit from Egypt’s ambassador Shawky Ismail to Cairo. The foreign ministry decided to keep him in the Egyptian capital “until further notice.”
The move follows the withdrawal by several Arab and European countries of their envoys from Damascus as the authorities continue their brutal crackdown on anti-regime protests.
Foreign Minister Mohammed Amr said on Wednesday that Cairo wants to see “a real and peaceful change in Syria,” starting with an immediate end to violence and with the “government responding to the aspirations of the Syrian people.”
He said this was necessary to “prevent an overall explosion in the situation, which would have consequences for the stability of the region.”
On the ground, Local Coordination Committees reported that at least 20 people were killed throughout the country on Sunday.
Rights groups say more than 6,000 people have been killed since regime forces began cracking down on pro-democracy protests launched 11 months ago.
Syrian security forces had deployed heavily in a tense Damascus neighborhood where a mourner was shot dead in the largest anti-regime rally seen in the capital, blunting calls for a “day of defiance.”
Although the security force deployment thwarted attempts by activists to stage new protests in Mazzeh neighborhood, scene of a funeral Saturday that turned into a huge anti-regime rally, business there came to a halt, activists said.
Mohammed Shami, a spokesman for activists in Damascus province, said most shops were shut in Mazzeh as well as in the neighborhoods of Barzeh, Qaboon, Kfar Sousa and Jubar.
Student demonstrations had been expected in Mazzeh but security forces were deployed around schools, Shami said.
“Security forces are heavily deployed throughout Mazzeh,” he added.
Another activist, Abu Huzaifa from the Mazzeh Committee, said police forced the family of Samer al-Khatib, 34, who died after being shot in neck during the mass funeral on Saturday, to bury him in a small ceremony earlier than planned, in an apparent move to head off demonstrations.
In central Damascus, shops were opened as normal, witnesses said, while state television showed live footage from Mazzeh interviewing people who claimed life was proceeding normally.
Deeb al-Dimashqi, a member of the Syrian Revolution Council based in the capital told AFP earlier that “huge demonstrations” were expected, adding however that Syrian forces had clamped tight security around the city.