Robert Ford 311.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
AMMAN - The United States has pulled its ambassador out of Syria over security concerns after his cultivation of contacts with protesters led to attacks on his embassy and residence by backers of President Bashar Assad, diplomats said on Monday.
Robert Ford left Syria over the weekend, the Western diplomats told Reuters, following a series of incidents that resulted in physical damage but no casualties.
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"Articles, more inciting against Ford than usual, have appeared in state media recently. He left on Saturday," said one of the diplomats, who like others asked not to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue.
US embassy officials were not immediately available for comment.
Ford, a veteran diplomat, infuriated Syria's rulers by getting in touch
with a seven-month-old grassroots protest movement demanding an end to
41 years of Assad family rule.
Ford was cheered by protesters when he went in July to the anti-Assad
hotbed city of Hama, which was later stormed by tanks. He also visited a
town that had witnessed regular protests in the southern province of
Deraa, ignoring a new ban on Western diplomats traveling outside the
Along with a group of mostly Western ambassadors, Ford later paid
condolences to the family of Ghayath Matar, a 25-year-old protest leader
who had distributed flowers to give to soldiers but was arrested and
died of apparent torture, activists say.
Washington, seeking to convince Assad to scale back an alliance with US
arch-foe Iran and backing for militant groups, acted to improve
relations with Damascus after President Barack Obama took office in
2009. Obama sent Ford to Damascus in January to fill a diplomatic vacuum
prevailing since Washington withdrew its ambassador in 2005.
But relations deteriorated anew after the uprising broke out and Assad
ignored international calls to respond to protester demands that he
dismantle the Syrian police state and allow political pluralism.
In an interview with Reuters last month, Ford said Assad was losing
support among key constituents and risked plunging Syria into sectarian
strife by intensifying a military crackdown on pro-democracy
Time was running against Assad, he said at the time.