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Syria Surveilling Protesters in US; Hama Greets US Envoy (VIDEO)

Syria Surveilling Protesters in US; Hama Greets US Envoy (VIDEO)

The US and French ambassadors stayed for two days in the city of Hama, the site of the largest demonstrations in Syria so far — some 500,000 protested on Friday — and was greeted with roses and olive branches thrown by protesters before leaving on Friday. Robert S. Ford and Éric Chevallier had arrived in Hama on Thursday; their visits had not been coordinated in advance, says the New York Times. Demonstrations on a smaller scale were also held in Damascus, Aleppo, Dayr az Zawr in the east and Homs, which is south of Hama.

At least 14 were killed on Friday, adding to a death toll that is already over 1,300.

The visit of Ford, “a seasoned diplomat and Arabic speaker who filled a post this year that had been vacant since 2005,” was both welcomed and critiqued, with activists asking why the US has not taken a harsher stance in calling for  President Bashar al-Assad to step down. Others are concerned that the US envoy’s visit “might allow the government to taint the protests.” The New York Times describes Ford’s visit to Hama:

A video posted to YouTube captured a scene unusual for an American diplomat in the Arab world, where resentment at American support for authoritarian rulers runs deep. In Hama, crowds chanting “People want the fall of the regime” cheered what appeared to be Mr. Ford’s vehicle, and some protesters tossed flowers on its hood. In the background was a huge banner that said, “Syria is free, down with Bashar al-Assad.”

“Residents feel a kind of protection with the presence of the ambassador,” said Omar al-Habbal, an activist in Hama. “The authorities wouldn’t dare react with violence.”…

One banner in Homs, as described by an activist, summed up protesters’ frustrations with foreign powers: “To China, Russia and the United States: The people are staying, and the regime is falling.”

Below is a video of the US ambassador Ford in Hama:

Saying that Ford had met with “saboteurs and incited them to violence, protest and rejection of dialogue,” the Syrian foreign ministry condemned his visit to Hama and described it as “proof that Washington was inciting unrest across Syria.” According to Al Jazeera, Victoria Nuland, a state department spokesperson countered that the US embassy had informed Syria’s defense ministry about his trip beforehand, and that he had passed through security checkpoints on the way.

In 1982, Hama suffered a brutal crackdown in which 10,000 or more were killed under Assad’s father, Hafez al-Assad.

In the US itself, Eric Boswell, an assistant secretary of state, summoned Syrian ambassador Imad Mustapha on Wednesday, after reports of Syrian ambassadors filming people at rallies supporting the anti-government protests in Syria. According to the BBC, the US said that it is also investigating concerns that the Syrian government may have “acted against” the families of protesters who are in Syria. The US State Department issued a statement at a White House press briefing on Friday:

“We received reports that Syrian mission personnel under Ambassador Mustapha’s authority have been conducting video and photographic surveillance of people participating in peaceful demonstrations in the United States.”

“The United States government takes very seriously reports of any foreign government actions attempting to intimidate individuals in the United States who are exercising their lawful right to freedom of speech as protected by the US Constitution.

“We are also investigating reports that the Syrian government has sought retribution against Syrian family members for the actions of their relatives in the United States exercising their lawful rights in this country and will respond accordingly.”

Loay Safi, chairman of the Syrian American Council, said that he had received reports of family members of those protesting in the US being “targeted” in Syria, says Al Jazeera:

“There are reports of intimidation and of retaliation. At this moment we are asking for investigation, but we are not quite certain,” he said….

“For instance, we had someone who is very active and calling for democracy in Syria and protesting in front of the embassy in Washington – his family member was killed back in Syria.”

The Guardian reports that, this coming Monday, a “national dialogue conference” is to begin. Assad has described this as “landmark moment in the uprising, paving the way for a change in electoral laws, away from one party rule and a broader voice for dissenters in the affairs of state.” But residents of Hama say that the so-called dialogue is simply a “fig leaf designed to create the impression of inclusiveness, but instead maintain a status quo of absolute power among the four-decade old regime” and that, so long as Assad is in power, “there can be no dialogue.”

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12 comments

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8:14PM PDT on Jul 10, 2011

Sending the people of Syria many positive thoughts.

5:20PM PDT on Jul 10, 2011

The CIA and FBI should monitor these Syrian agents who are breaking the laws!

1:27PM PDT on Jul 10, 2011

Jonathan,

I agree with the general thrust of what you say, but the MB has most definitely NOT become more moderate. They simply recognize that they have to appear that way to gain support. Their aims are as radical as they ever were, they just know how to bide their time and change their clothing for those who want to see them differently than they really are.

1:11PM PDT on Jul 10, 2011

Bashir is just like his father

12:21PM PDT on Jul 10, 2011

Assad the closest to Hitler since his father, and the real reason so little is being done about it Iran again. The only thing that's accomplished by sanctions there and in Syria is hurting the people who's lives actually can be worse off. Military action isn't the answer either developing stronger relations with Syria's neighbors is one positive solution this will take Assad's power away.

4:41PM PDT on Jul 9, 2011

We should also remember that it was Islamic extremists who started the 1982 rebellion.

The Muslim Brotherhood has become more moderate since then, but really in these uprisings the U.S. doesn't have a side to take. We had issues with the Syrians, and we had issues with Hizballah. As far as Islamic Jihad, we think their more extreme views are just plain nuts - and worse, they don't have a practical political plan for governing a diverse nation like Syria.

2:11PM PDT on Jul 9, 2011

Thanks for posting

10:40AM PDT on Jul 9, 2011

Who could think of such things and such horrors but the devil himself?
The fact is that we all need more life and less demands on us. Stress levels must be so high in children and woman who bore them into this world from heaven ........

I don't realize the minds of those who torture children continually and women who work so hard to be a home for their families.

I know this is crass but maybe men should try doing better things than this states in this article.

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