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SYRIA: American envoy taunts Bashar Assad with visit to besieged Hama

July 8, 2011 |  4:18 am

_50823852_010919904-1 Syria reacted with fury on Friday to a visit by U.S. ambassador Robert Ford to the violence-stricken central city of Hama on Thursday (and possibly longer), saying it was proof that the unrest plaguing the country is nothing more than an American plot.

''The presence of the U.S. ambassador in Hama city without obtaining a prior permission from the Foreign Ministry as stipulated by instructions distributed repeatedly to all the embassies is clear evidence of the U.S. involvement in the ongoing events in Syria and its bids to aggravate the situations which destabilize Syria,'' an unnamed official at the Syrian foreign ministry was quoted as saying in a statement carried on the official Syrian news agency SANA.

The U.S. State Department said its embassy in Damascus had told the Syrian government that it was dispatching a diplomatic team -- without naming Ford personally -- to Hama, according to pan-Arab news channel Al Jazeera.

Ford toured Hama on Thursday in a bid to show solidarity with residents demanding the downfall of the four-decade authoritarian regime amid a bloody security clampdown on the city and fears that Assad's armed enforcers may launch a military assault on the resistance hotbed.

"The fundamental intention was to make absolutely clear with his physical presence that we stand with those Syrians who are expressing their right to speak for change," said a statement from the U.S. State Department, cited by Western media.

The BBC reported Friday that Ford is planning to stay in Hama to attend anti-Assad protests, which normally erupt after Friday prayers.

Ford's visit comes a week after Hama witnessed one of the biggest demonstrations since the start of the uprising, with hundreds of thousands of protesters reportedly taking to the streets last Friday.

A day later Assad sacked the governor of Hama and tanks have been stationed outside the city, prompting scores of residents to flee in fear of a military crackdown.

--Alexandra Sandels in Beirut


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Photo: US ambassador to Syria Robert Ford. Credit: Agence France Presse