Robert Ford 311.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Syrian President Bashar Assad is losing support among key constituents and risks
plunging his country into sectarian strife, the US ambassador to Damascus said
“The government violence is actually creating retaliation
and creating even more violence in our analysis, and it is also increasing the
risk of sectarian conflict,” Robert Ford said in a phone interview with Reuters
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“I don’t think that the Syrian government today, September
22, is close to collapse.
I think time is against the regime because the
economy is going into a more difficult situation, the protest movement is
continuing and little by little groups that used to support the government are
beginning to change.”
The envoy said there was economic malaise in Syria,
signs of dissent within Assad’s Alawite minority sect and more defections from
the army since mid- September, but the military is “still very powerful and very
He cited a statement issued in the restive city of Homs last
month by three notable members of the Alawite minority community, to which
Assad’s family belongs, that said the Alawites’ future is not tied to the Assads
remaining in power.
“We did not see developments like that in April or
May. I think the longer this continues the more difficult it becomes for the
different communities, the different elements of Syrian society that used to
support Assad, to continue to support him.”
The ambassador said Assad
could still rely on the military to try and crush the protest movement but the
killing of peaceful protesters was losing him support within the
“The Syrian army is still very powerful and it is still very
strong,” he said. “Its cohesion is not at risk today but there are more reports
since mid-September of desertions than we heard in April and May or June. And
this is why I am saying time is not on the side of the government.”
Wednesday, Ford told the website The Daily Caller that he has been amazed by the
protesters’ “sheer courage.”
“I don’t think Americans can really get a
grasp on really how dangerous this is, to go out on these streets with this army
and these thugs,” he said.
Asked whether he would describe the Damascus
regime as “evil,” he said, “Yes, actually I do because of what’s happening under
his authority in terms of people being tortured to death, people being shot who
are unarmed and no one being held accountable for it.”
“I can understand
it if it was against orders and you just were trying to remake a police force or
you were trying to remake a prison system and so there are a lot of orders being
disobeyed, but you would want people held accountable. But because I see no
accountability, I can only assume that on some level that he accepts it if not
encourages it. To me that would be evil,” he said.
Ford was nominated
last year by US President Barack Obama to be America’s first ambassador to
Damascus in six years. His nomination met opposition from Senate Republicans,
citing Syria’s designation in Washington as a state sponsor of
Obama circumvented the Senate, giving Ford a recess
appointment, and the diplomat arrived in Damascus at the start of this year,
shortly before anti-government protests began.
Also Thursday, the London-
based daily Asharq Alawsat
reported that residents of several Lebanese villages
close to the Syrian border fear impending Syrian invasion to root out refugees
seeking sanctuary there.
The paper reported that in recent days Syrian
soldiers have opened fire at the villages at night in an attempt to scare
residents from housing refugees.Reuters contributed to this report.