By REUTERS – Arab News
AMMAN: Diplomatic pressure mounted on Syrian President Bashar Assad on Monday after Qatar, previously a major supporter, shut its embassy in Damascus and the European Union said it was considering tougher sanctions.
Meanwhile, Syria saw its first outbreak of sectarian violence in four months of protests against Assad’s autocratic rule when at least 30 people were killed at the weekend in clashes between rival communities in the city of Homs.
Assad has responded to the unprecedented threat to his rule with promises to reform and offers of dialogue, coupled with a fierce crackdown in which, rights groups say, some 1,400 people have been killed and 10 times more arrested.
But the demonstrations have grown in strength and spread from small rural towns to cities the length and breadth of the country.
Assad, once courted by the West as a possible moderate in the region, is becoming increasingly isolated internationally, with only Iran keeping up its support.
Qatar was a major backer of Syria until protests broke out in March, but relations deteriorated when protesters began to be killed by Assad’s security forces.