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Tuesday 30 September 2014

Jordan expels Syrian ambassador

Published 26/05/2014 | 15:52

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Bahjat Suleiman, the Syrian ambassador to Jordan (AP)

Jordan has ordered Syria's ambassador to leave the country within 24 hours in a humiliating public announcement, accusing him of making "offensive" statements about the kingdom.

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The dramatic expulsion of Ambassador Bahjat Suleiman appeared to be the start of a severing of relations with Syria. Soon after the announcement, Syria's state-run television said it would expel the Jordanian charge d'affaires in retaliation.

The move was unexpected, because Jordan has hosted a Syrian ambassador since the start of the country's 2011 uprising, despite quietly supporting rebels trying to overthrow President Bashar Assad.

It wasn't clear if the border between the two countries, across which hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees have fled, would be closed. Rebels control Syria's borders with Iraq and Turkey, leaving only the Lebanese and Jordanian border posts in the government's hands.

The land corridor with Jordan allows Syrian products to reach wealthy Gulf markets, providing much-needed relief to an economy shattered by three years of war.

Jordan also hosts nearly 600,000 registered Syrian refugees - although Jordanian officials say the real number is far higher.

Syria's conflict, now in its fourth year, has killed at least 160,000 people, according to activists. Nearly three million Syrians have fled the country.

Experts expressed surprise at the announcement, saying it was not in keeping with diplomatic protocol.

"The dramatic way he was expelled was strange, it's as if Jordan is cutting off its diplomatic relations with Syria," said military analyst Hisham Jaber, a retired brigadier general in the Lebanese military.

"The ambassador could have been summoned, and a complaint could have been lodged. But to say: 'Get out' - that's very tough."

Mr Suleiman was declared persona non grata because of "continued offensive statements, through his personal contacts or writing in the media and the social media against the kingdom," the Jordanian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Sabah al-Rafie, said in a statement carried by the state-run Petra news agency.

She described his statements as "sheer departure from all diplomatic norms and conventions".

It was not immediately clear to what statements she was referring. But Ms al-Rafie said Mr Suleiman used Jordan as a platform to offend other Arab countries - a likely nod to Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which back the uprising against President Assad.

Press Association

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