Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah demands an end to the bloodshed in Syria and recalls his country's ambassador from Damascus, in a rare intervention.

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The Saudi statement is a rare case of one of the Arab world's most powerful leaders intervening against another Arab leader. It is the sharpest criticism of any leader from the country since a wave of protests swept the Middle East.

The intervention came with all of King Abdullah's personal authority, and followed statements from the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council condemning events in Syria over the weekend.

"What is happening in Syria is not acceptable for Saudi Arabia," the king said in a written statement read out on Al Arabiya satellite television.

Events in Syria had "nothing to do with religion, or values, or ethics," the king said.

What is happening in Syria is not acceptable for Saudi Arabia. King Abdullah

He added: "Syria should think wisely before it's too late and issue and enact reforms that are not merely promises but actual reforms. Either it chooses wisdom on its own or it will be pulled down into the depths of turmoil and loss."

Saudia Arabia itself is an absolute monarchy that bans political opposition, and protests there earlier this year did not get far although the king did make some concessions to demonstrators. The country sent troops to Bahrain to help the country suppress protests there, and Saudi officials have criticised the decision to put Egypt's former leader Hosni Mubarak on trial.

Strong signal

In Washington, a US State Department official said the king's statement was a strong signal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad.

Read more: Denial in Damascus as Syria revolts

"This is another clear sign that the international community, including Syria's neighbours, are repulsed by the brutal actions of the Syrian government and will continue to stand with the people of Syria," the official said.

A former US government official with knowledge of the region said the Saudi king likely went public to press concerns that had probably already been conveyed privately.

"I think he did it on his own because the private messages were clearly being ignored," the former official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

A crackdown by President Assad against protests has become one of the most violent episodes in the wave of unrest sweeping through the Arab world this year.

On Sunday, activists said Syrian troops with tanks had launched an assault on the city of Deir al-Zor in the east of the country, killing dozens. The past week has seen scores of people killed in a siege of Hama, a city where President Assad's father launched a crackdown nearly 30 years ago, killing thousands.