Obama tells Assad to ‘step aside’

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(JTA) — President Obama has called for Syrian President Bashar Assad to resign in the wake of attacks by his government that have killed thousands.

"For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside," Obama said in a written statement Thursday morning.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at a news conference in Washington later told Assad "to get out of the way" and accused him of "Slaughtering thousands of unarmed Syrian citizens, including children."

Along with the call for Assad’s resignation, Obama signed an executive order strengthening economic sanctions on Syria in order to "further tighten the circle of isolation around the regime," Clinton said.

The Obama statement came a day after Syrian troops reportedly killed nine citizens during prayers in the city of Homs, which has been at the epicenter of Syrian protests and the violent government crackdowns. The same day, Assad told an official of the United Nations that military action in Syria was over, The Associated Press reported.

Obama administration officials apparently had alerted world leaders in Europe and the Middle East that the U.S. call for Assad to step down was imminent.

As recently as Tuesday, the Obama administration had pushed back at publicly calling for Assad to leave.

"It’s not going to be any news if the United States says Assad needs to go," Clinton said at the time. "OK, fine. What’s next? If Turkey says it, if King Abdullah [of Saudi Arabia] says it, if other people say it, there is no way the Assad regime can ignore it." 

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