Egypt waives visa fees for Syrians after Mursi overthrow

CAIRO Mon Jul 22, 2013 12:52pm EDT

1 of 2. Syrian refugee girls play at Arbat refugee camp, in the northern Iraqi of province Sulaimaniya July 21, 2013. Picture taken July 21, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Yahya Ahmad

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CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt said on Monday it would cancel visa fees for Syrians, the latest effort to ease diplomatic tensions between the two Arab states after the army ousted President Mohamed Mursi this month.

Mursi, a member of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood, had cut off diplomatic relations with Syria, led by President Bashar al-Assad, a follower of the Shi'ite's Alawite sect, last month at a rally packed with hardline Sunni Islamists calling for holy war in Syria.

Egypt's army-backed administration that replaced Mursi has since tried to distance itself from his position, which analysts say could signal a desire to return to a role as a more neutral broker in the civil war.

More than 100,000 people have been killed in Syria's conflict between pro-democracy protesters and hardline Sunni militants and Assad's forces since March 2011.

Millions of Syrians have been displaced to Arab and international countries, including tens of thousands in Egypt.

Egypt's radio broadcast the news about the change in policy on Syrian visa on its main noon news show on Monday and said it was "meant to comfort the Syrian people".

Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy said on Saturday that Egypt has no intention of waging a holy war against Syria and was "re-examining" diplomatic ties with the war-torn country.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty told Reuters the removal of the visa fees was "a sign of our full support for the Syrian people during this difficult period".

Egypt still supported the "revolution" of the Syrian people, he added, but did not say if that included their call to oust Assad. Mursi repeatedly had called on Assad to step down.

"We did it in order to ease the burden on our Syrian brothers," foreign ministry spokesman Abdelatty said.

Syrians will still have to apply for visas, a measure introduced this month after media and some officials accused Syrian Sunni-Muslims of joining Mursi's supporters in their clashes with the military. More than 100 people were killed in the clashes.

(Repeats to clarify President Assad's religious affiliation)

(Reporting by Tom Finn; Editing by Michael Roddy)

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