Syria hit back at Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi on Monday, saying his Islamist beard is the only thing that distinguishes him from the veteran strongman he replaced after last year’s Arab Spring uprising.
Responding to high-profile criticism from Mursi at a Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran last week, Information Minister Omran al-Zohbi charged that the Egyptian leader was complicit in the armed revolt rocking his country.
“He is responsible for spilling Syrian blood, as are the Qataris, the Saudis and the Turks,” Zohbi said.
“The only difference between him and (ousted strongman Hosni) Mubarak is that he has a beard.”
The Syrian government prides itself on its secularism. The Muslim Brotherhood, for which Mursi successfully ran for Egypt’s presidency earlier this year, has long been outlawed in Syria on pain of death. It is one of the most powerful factions within the opposition Syrian National Council.
Mursi caused a storm on Thursday when, on the first visit to Iran by an Egyptian leader in decades, he slammed Syria's regime as “oppressive” and urged support for rebels seeking President Bashar al-Assad’s ouster.
“Our solidarity with the struggle of Syrians against an oppressive regime that has lost its legitimacy is an ethical duty, and a political and strategic necessity,” he said.
As violence continued in Syria Monday, Russia, a strong ally to Syria, issued a strongly worded statement expressing its “deep concern” at a warning that Syrian rebels plan to target civilian airports in Damascus and Aleppo from Tuesday.
“In Moscow we have seen with deep concern the statements distributed in the media by representatives of the so-called Free Syria Army that international civilian airports of Damascus and Aleppo are from now on seen as military targets,” the Russian foreign ministry on Monday said in a statement.
State-owned RIA Novosti news agency on Friday reported on a rebel statement cited by London-based Asharq al-Awsat newspaper saying Damascus and Aleppo airports and commercial flights would be targeted from Tuesday because they were being used for military aviation.
“We consider such threats absolutely unacceptable,” the Russian foreign ministry said.
“From a moral and legal point of view this means the opposition’s critical proximity to a red line, beyond which are acts that are no different from the crimes of Al-Qaeda.”
“The most recent statement by the Free Syria Army essentially confirms that terrorism is turning into one of its main methods of activity,” the ministry added.
Russia called for “taking action on the leaders of the Free Syria Army in the most decisive manner to excluse such threats, not to mention their being carried out,” and reiterated calls for Russians to avoid travel to Syria.
Rebel forces have increasingly targeted the Syrian regime’s military air power and claimed to have shot down a MiG fighter jet and destroyed a dozen aircraft on the ground last week.
Russia continues to lobby for a short-lived agreement struck by world powers in Geneva on June 30 calling for a rapid ceasefire and supports a move towards a transition government that would decide President Bashar al-Assad’s future.
On Monday, the opposition group, the Local Coordination Committees, reported that more than 200 people were killed especially in Aleppo across Syria by the security forces.
Western powers are also preparing a tough response if Assad’s regime deploys chemical or biological weapons in its civil war, key European officials warned Monday.