Jordan king urges Muslim clerics to fight Syria sectarian strife

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Jordan's King Abdullah II on Tuesday urged Muslim clerics attending a meeting in Amman to help contain the spillover of Syria's sectarian strife into the region.

"You are the scholars of the Islamic world and it is your responsibility to confront the ethnic and sectarian strife in Syria," the king told the group of clerics taking part in a conference at Jordan's Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought.

"The bloodshed in Syria should be stopped and the unity of this country, and that of the rest of the Arab and Islamic nation should be preserved," he added.

The Jordanian monarch, whose country is home to more than 500,000 Syrian refugees, also called for "takfiris" -- Sunni Muslims who apostate others -- to be confronted.

"I am keen to work with you to implement any initiative you suggest to serve our Islamic World, preserve its unity, discourage Muslims from apostating each other, promote respect among... Sunni, Shiite, including Salafists, Sufis, Alawites..." he said.

Lebanon's Iran-backed Shiite Hezbollah movement has openly said it is fighting alongside President Bashar al-Assad's forces, while Shiite Iraqi fighters have been sighted in Syria supporting the regime against the mostly-Sunni rebels.

Sectarian tensions in Lebanon have soared as the Syrian conflict rages on, with deadly clashes mostly in the northern city of Tripoli between Sunni supporters of the rebels and Alawite backers of Assad, who hails from the minority Shiite offshoot sect.

Jordan, a key US ally, fears an increased spillover of the conflict into the region and that Islamic extremists could establish a foothold in Syria, the kingdom's northern neighbour.

In a June interview with the London-based Asharq Alawsat Arabic daily, the king warned against allowing Syria to fracture along sectarian lines, saying a Sunni-Shiite polarisation "will have devastating consequences".

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