US Closes Its Embassy in Syria; More Deaths in Homs
The US closed its Syrian embassy in Damascus on Monday. In a statement on the embassy’s website, Ambassador Robert S. Ford said that all US operations in the country had been suspended and that all personnel had left Syria due to “serious concerns that our embassy is not protected from armed attack.” Syria’s “deteriorating security situation” is a sign of how far President Bashar al-Assad has lost control of his own country, says Ford.
On Sunday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for the “friends of democratic Syria” to join together and rally against Assad’s regime. She had harshly criticized Russia and China vetoing a United Nations Security Council resolution that called for Assad to step down and transfer power to a unity government. Clinton described the Security Council as “neutered” and said that it is now necessary to “redouble our efforts outside of the United Nations with those allies and partners who support the Syrian people’s right to have a better future.” Such a group could be similar to the Contact Group on Libya, which presided over international help for the opposition to the late Muammar el-Gaddafi. While this group also coordinated NATO’s military operations in Libya, such are not planned for Syria.
While the US embassy staff has left Syria and has reportedly temporarily relocated in neighboring Jordan, the US has not cut off all diplomatic ties with Syria. But the withdrawal of US embassy staff is certainly a “strong signal” that the Obama administration believes there is “nothing left to talk about with Mr. Assad.” The British foreign secretary, William Hague, said that Russia and China have made a “grave error of judgment” in vetoing the UN resolution; Britain’s embassy still remains open in Damascus
Army Shelling of Homs on Monday
Over the weekend, 200 were reported killed in the restive city of Homs, near the Lebanese border of western Syria and a center of anti-government protests throughout the nearly eleven-month uprising. Activists said that 29 more had died on Monday as the army stepped up shelling the city, seemingly emboldened after the vetoing of the UN resolution.
The BBC’s Paul Wood described “almost constant” blasts in Homs. An eyewitness, Danny Abdul Dayem, told the BBC that the army had started to use rockets for the first time and that more than 300 had fallen on his neighborhood since dawn. In return, some rebels have been firing automatic weapons, a seemingly “futile” gesture. Reports that shelling had hit a field hospital in the Baba Amr district could not be verified. Dayem also said that only one field hospital with four doctors was still operating and that it is impossible to bring in any medical supplies into Homs. An activist, Omar Shakir, told the New York Times that people are afraid to leave their homes.
The Syrian state news agency, SANA, has denied that any shelling has been going on and said that “residents were setting fire to piles of rubbish on the roofs of their homes to trick the world into thinking that there was an attack.” The BBC’s Wood notes that residents are indeed setting fire to trash in the street, but in the misguided hopes of confusing the guidance system of rockets.
A student in Syria’s second-largest city, Aleppo, said to the New York Times that “All the young guys are getting armed, even university students.” With the failure of a diplomatic solution to stop the violence in Syria — a failure of the UN, some say — an armed sectarian conflict in Syria, a civil war, seems ever more likely.
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