The United States shuttered its embassy in Syria on Monday and Britain said it
would recall its ambassador, as diplomatic pressure against Damascus grew amid
reports that 50 more Syrians had been killed by regime fire.
said the fatalities occurred during a sustained assault on Homs, a center of
armed opposition to President Bashar Assad.
Washington said all its
embassy staff had left the country due to worsening security.
President Barack Obama said that however hard Western countries are leaning on
Assad diplomatically, they have no intention of using force to topple him as
they did against Muammar Gaddafi in Libya last year.
“I think it is very
important for us to try to resolve this without recourse to outside military
intervention. And I think that’s possible,” he told NBC’s Today
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement:
“We, along with several other diplomatic missions, conveyed our security
concerns to the Syrian government but the regime failed to respond
Nuland said Robert Ford would retain his position as US
ambassador to Syria and would work together with his team from
“Together with other senior US officials, Ambassador Ford
will maintain contacts with the Syrian opposition and continue our efforts to
support the peaceful political transition, which the Syrian people have so
bravely sought,” she said.
In London, the UK foreign secretary said he
had recalled Britain’s ambassador in Syria.
“I have today recalled to
London our ambassador in Damascus for consultations,” William Hague
Calling the Syrian government “a doomed regime as well as a
murdering regime,” Hague said there was no way it could recover its credibility
internationally or with its own people.
He welcomed the idea of a new
Arab-led group of “Friends of Syria” and said Britain would be “a highly active
member in setting up such a group with the broadest possible international
The US and France have both floated the idea of a “Friends of
Syria” or a contact group to tackle the Syria crisis. Western countries are
scrambling to find a new diplomatic strategy after failing to enact a UN
Security Council resolution that would have backed an Arab League call for Assad
to stand aside.
UN Secretary-General Ban Kimoon said he was “appalled” by
the violence, which he described as “totally unacceptable before
Condemnation of Russia’s veto has been extraordinarily strong
by diplomatic standards.
French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet said on
Monday: “There are political cultures that deserve a kick in the ass... To
accept that a dictator can operate freely is disgraceful for governments that
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who is due in
Damascus on Tuesday, said condemnations of Moscow’s veto had verged on
China also vetoed the measure, following Russia’s lead
according to most accounts.
Sirwan Kajjo, a Syrian-Kurdish journalist and
activist based in Washington, said the US embassy closure was a welcome
“It was expected. It’s the first step towards other countries –
France and Germany – closing their embassies as well,” he told The Jerusalem
Syria’s main Kurdish groups support a devolution of central power
from Damascus and autonomy in the northeastern area of the country where most
Kajjo said many Syrian Kurds would welcome foreign military
intervention in the country as well.
“Even if Russia and China hadn’t
vetoed the UN draft, it wouldn’t have changed much – at the end of the day it
was just a condemnation,” he said. “People on the ground have been asking for
military intervention for months.”
Kajjo said new efforts to tighten
sanctions on Syria were not likely to have an appreciable effect on the
“Look how many sanctions there have been, but nothing has
happened,” he said.
“Even before the uprising, Syria didn’t have
significant economic relations with the West.”
On Monday Arab League
chief Nabil Elaraby said Syria’s latest escalation was pushing the country
toward civil war.
“We follow with great anxiety and irritation
developments in the field situation in Syria, and the escalation of military
operations in the city of Homs and rural areas of Damascus, and the Syrian armed
forces’ use of heavy weapons against civilians,” he said. Elaraby said the
escalation took the crisis in Syria in “a serious direction” and “in a slide
towards civil war.”
Kajjo, however, said the threshold of civil war has
already been crossed.
“Civil war has already begun,” he said. “What was
happening in Homs two months ago could already qualify as a civil
The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it had the
names of 29 people killed in Monday’s bombardment of the city. Television
footage showed smoke rising from buildings, with explosions echoing in the
“They want to drive the Free Syrian Army out,” said a
resident of the beleaguered Baba Amro quarter, referring to the force of army
deserters and rebels who have held parts of Homs for months.
falling seconds apart on the same target.”
Another resident said
activists had obtained information that the shelling would continue until
Thursday, when troops were expected to move into Homs.
“We have no one
but God – everybody abandoned us,” he said.
Assad’s opponents say tanks
and artillery killed more than 200 people in Homs on Friday night in the
bloodiest incident of the 11-month-old uprising against his rule.
latest offensive by Assad’s forces may have been planned for some time, and was
signaled in a speech last month when he vowed to strike “terrorists” with an
Also Monday, activists said an explosion ripped through an oil
pipeline feeding a main refinery in Homs, the second attack on the pipeline in a
week. They said the opposition- held town of Zabadani, near the Lebanese border,
also came under fire on Monday.
A local wing of the Free Syrian Army in
Zabadani warned it would start attacking “sensitive and strategic [targets] of
the regime” unless the army pulled back from the town by Tuesday
Syrian army defectors announced they were organizing a new
“Higher Revolutionary Council” to supersede the Free Syrian Army as the main
armed force battling Assad’s rule. The new body would be commanded by Gen. Ahmed
al-Sheikh, the highest-ranking officer to defect to Turkey from government
“After consultations with defectors across the homeland and after
careful organization of their ranks, the formation of a Higher Revolutionary
Council to Liberate Syria has been agreed in response to the call of freedom and
ahead of freeing Syria from this gang,” a statement from the new group
read.Hilary Leila Krieger and Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.
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