Rabat Syria said it regards Morocco’s ambassador to Damascus as a person non grata in response to a similar move by the North African nation, Syrian state television said.
Morocco said it had asked the Syrian ambassador to leave the North African country and declared him persona non grata, calling for a transition to democracy that would meet the Syrian people’s aspirations for freedom.
The expulsion followed the defection last week of Syria’s ambassador to Iraq and the flight the week before of a prominent general once close to Assad - developments that Western officials said showed that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was losing his grip on power as the rebellion against him drags on.
Earlier on Monday, rumours had circulated that the ambassador to Rabat, Nabih Esmail, had also defected to the rebel side. A Syrian embassy official denied this but had no further comment.
Morocco’s Foreign Ministry did not immediately explain the timing or the reason for its decision to expel Esmail, but said in a statement the situation in Syria “cannot remain as it is”.
It added that Morocco wished for “an efficient and resolute action to ensure a political transition towards a democratic setup that guarantees Syria’s unity, stability and regional safety to achieve the brotherly Syrian people’s aspirations for dignity, freedom and development.”
Morocco recalled its own ambassador to Damascus in November 2011 and Monday’s decision was the latest in a series of diplomatic expulsions that has seen Damascus increasingly isolated as anti-Assad rebels gain strength.
In May, the United States, France, Britain, Canada, Germany, Italy, Spain, Australia, Bulgaria and Switzerland all kicked out Syrian diplomats in response to a massacre of 108 people in the town of Houla in May. Japan followed suit.
Morocco’s North African neighbours Tunisia and Libya, which saw their own dictators swept away in last year’s Arab Spring uprisings, expelled Syrian diplomats as far back as February.
Meanwhile, regime forces shelled the southern Damascus neighbourhood of Tadamon on Monday, hours after the most violent battles in the capital since the outbreak of the Syrian revolt, activist said.
“Mortar shelling resumed in the early morning,” said the Local Coordination Committees (LCC), a grassroots network of activists.
The LCC added that regime troops and rebel fighters of the Free Syrian Army also clashed in the western Damascus district of Kfar Sousa.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported “dawn battles on the road south of Kfar Sousa, between rebel fighters and soldiers who were in a convoy passing through the area.”
“I did not sleep all night,” a resident of nearby Jaramana said. “It was a real war zone.”
Speaking on condition of anonymity, he said he heard “rockets and shooting until the early hours of the morning,” and that he saw four armoured vehicles heading towards the embattled areas.
One Tadamon resident said he could not leave the neighbourhood on Sunday.
A newspaper seller in Ain Tarma, just outside Damascus, said he had to make a long detour in order to reach his place of work on Monday.
“Fighting broke out in the early morning,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity, adding that “RPGs and guns were used.”
The pro-government newspaper Al Watan, meanwhile, carried a front page headline on Monday apparently addressed to anti-regime activists that read: “You will never take Damascus.”
According to the newspaper army and security forces were battling “terrorist groups who are trying to take root in the suburban districts” of southern Damascus, including Tadamon, Al Hajar Al Aswad, Daff Al Shok, Nahr Aishe, Qadam and Kfar Sousa to the west.
The town of Qatana, 20km away from the capital, was also shelled on Monday.
Elsewhere, regime troops shelled the besieged Homs districts of Khaldiya, Jourat Al Shiah and Qarabees, while FSA fighters clashed with the army at the edges of the battered neighbourhoods.
To the north, regime forces raided the central city of Hama, scene of fierce clashes and a series of loud blasts, the Observatory said.
Regime troops also raided eastern Deir Al Zor, where snipers shot dead a man, the watchdog said.
It also reported that goalkeeper Mustafa Shakoush was abducted in the coastal city of Latakia “because of his support for the revolution and for opposition activists in the nearby town of Haffe.”
The Observatory said violence across Syria on Sunday had killed 105 people — 48 civilians, 16 rebels and 41 soldiers. The toll cannot be independently verified.
According to the watchdog more than 17,000 people have been killed since the uprising erupted against the regime of President Bashar Al Assad in mid-March last year.