AMMAN // Jordan's King Abdullah II warned yesterday against allowing Syria to fracture along sectarian lines, saying a Sunni-Shiite polarisation "will have devastating consequences".
"A divided Syria means an open-ended conflict that would undermine the stability of the region and the future of its people for generations to come," the king, whose country is home to about 550,000 Syrian refugees, told London-based Asharq Alawsat Arabic daily.
"Dividing Syria is not in anyone's interest and tampering with Syria's unity is a recipe for destruction."
King Abdullah also warned against exporting the conflict to the wider region, saying that "fanning the fire of sectarianism in the Arab and Islamic worlds will have devastating consequences for generations to come and on the entire world".
"The sum of all fears is that the Syrian conflict could expand into a fitna (Arabic for sedition) between the region's Sunnis and Shiites."
The Shiite Hizbollah movement has said it is fighting alongside the forces of the Syrian president, Bashar Al Assad, while Shiite Iraqi fighters are also reported to be in Syria, supporting the regime against the mostly-the rebels, who are mostly Sunni.
These interventions have prompted calls for a united Sunni stance against the Shiite groups involved.
"We are now facing a situation where both Sunnis and Shiites believe that a devastating sectarian war in Syria is inevitable," King Abdullah said.
Jordan shares fears with the West that extremists could establish a foothold in Syria, the kingdom's northern neighbour.
"We cannot remain silent over attempts to tamper with the destiny of the region and its peoples by exploiting religion and religious schools for politics and use them as a means to divide people," King Abdullah said.
He said there must be a political solution that includes all sides in Syria.
The king said hosting more than half a million Syrian refugees in Jordan had placed the country "at the core" of the crisis.
"What I fear is finding ourselves in a difficult situation where, God forbid, we cannot provide relief to our brothers and sisters, the Syrian refugees seeking a safe haven in Jordan," he said.
"That would mean that efforts to export the Syrian crisis have succeeded.
"We should not allow this, for humanitarian and political reasons. Relief efforts and support should not relapse, nor should political pressures to find an inclusive, comprehensive and political transitional solution."