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October 23, 2011

US Pulls Ambassador From Syria

by Ben Gilbert

The United States has pulled its ambassador from Syria due to security concerns.  

The U.S. Embassy says Ambassador Robert Ford returned to Washington due to threats on his life that no longer made it safe for him to remain in Syria. Ford has infuriated Syrian authorities by meeting with opposition figures and showing support for protesters calling for an end to the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.

In July, Ford made a trip to the protest hub of Hama during a massive protest. The Syrian government condemned his actions, and Assad supporters tried to storm the U.S. Embassy compound and the ambassador’s residence. Ford and other embassy officials were later attacked with stones and tomatoes as Ford left a meeting with an opposition figure on September 29.

Chargé d'affaires Haynes Mahoney has been put in charge of the embassy in Damascus.  He says Ford was withdrawn after receiving “direct threats against his personal safety” that included what Mahoney says were “false and malicious articles” in government-controlled and affiliated media in Syria.

"For example, there was one stating that he was attempting to implement a civil war in Syria," said Mahoney. "And then there was another that claims that he was in charge of death squads in Iraq, and he was trying to apply his experience here in Syria. Our assessment was that these articles were trying to incite violence against him, and the attack that happened on September 29 by pro-regime thugs was another example of threats against his security.”

Mahoney says the embassy continues to function and that Ambassador Ford will return as soon as security conditions permit.

"We hope the regime will end its incitement campaign against the ambassador, because his presence here is a benefit to our mission, and to deliver our message and be our eyes on the round," said Mahoney.

Ford is the first American ambassador assigned to Syria since 2005, when the previous ambassador was withdrawn over allegations Syria was involved in the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. Syria has denies any involvement in the assassination.

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