Syria lashes out at Egypt decision to sever ties


DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Syria said Sunday that Egypt's decision to cut diplomatic ties with his country is "irresponsible," accusing its president of fueling sectarian conflict in Syria and serving a U.S.-Israeli conspiracy to divide the Middle East.

The government statement quoted in state media comes a day after President Mohammed Morsi told supporters at a Cairo rally that his country is severing ties with Damascus and closing its embassy in the Syrian capital.

Morsi, an Islamist who hails from Egypt's powerful Muslim Brotherhood, made the decision as calls proliferate from hardline Sunni clerics in Egypt and the region to launch a "holy war" against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

In his Saturday night speech, Morsi also called for a U.N. endorsed no-fly zone over Syria.

The strongly-worded Syrian statement said on Sunday said Morsi is supporting an idea that would violate its sovereignty, and is "serving the goals of Israel and the United States" in the region.

"Mohammed Morsi joins a choir of conspiracy and incitement led by the United States and Israel against Syria," the statement said.

It also accused Morsi of endorsing calls by hardline clerics calling for fighting in Syria against Assad's regime "to shed Syrian blood instead of directing the compass toward liberating occupied Palestinian lands." The statement added that Morsi doesn't reflect the views of Egyptians, who have longstanding ties with the Syrian people and who have fought alongside them against Israel in wars of the past.

The statement taunted Morsi, whose Brotherhood group is known for its enmity to Israel, for cutting ties with Syria but maintaining them with Israel despite its treatment of the Palestinians and recent airstrikes inside Syria. That policy "exposes the real identity of Morsi and his group," it said.

Since taking office, Morsi has attempted to reconcile his group's traditionally anti-Israel and anti-US positions with the requirements of his role as the leader of Egypt — the first Arab country to sign a peace deal with Israel in 1979.

Morsi, who took office in June last year, tried to make Syria the focus of his foreign policy project, launching a regional peace initiative that includes rivals Saudi Arabia, a Sunni Muslim country, and Shiite Iran. But the complexity of the Syrian conflict, with now both the United States and Russia supporting different sides of an already gruesome war, has drowned the initiative.

Morsi's decision Saturday comes as the conflict is increasing taking sectarian overtones. The fighting pits Assad's regime — dominated by a Shiite offshoot and supported by Shiite Iran and Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah guerrillas — against mostly Sunni rebel fighters backed by Sunni Gulf regimes. Hardline Sunni clerics have called on able-bodied young men to join Syrian rebels in their fight against Assad's regime, and blasted Hezbollah for taking part in the fighting.

Morsi called on Hezbollah to get out of Syria, a view previously expressed by Gulf countries.

In Egypt, Morsi faces a fresh round of street protests later this month by opposition parties who are urging him to step down. His opponents accuse the Islamist leader of monopolizing power and failing to address the country's myriad of social and economic problems.

The Syrian statement seized on Morsi' domestic woes.

"Syria condemns this irresponsible position that reflects an attempt by Morsi to implement the agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood," the official said. "Syria is confident that the brotherly Egyptian people will bring down these (Morsi) policies and ... their grave consequences on the region."