US ambassador in Hama to show support for protests
The US ambassador to Syria visited the city of Hama on Thursday to demonstrate support for the rights of the protesters coming under siege by President Bashar al-Assad's regime, dpa reported.
US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said ambassador Robert Ford travelled to Hama after the embassy informed the Syrian government of the plans. During the visit, he met with at least dozen protesters who welcomed his presence, she said.
"He has spent the day expressing our deep support for the right of the Syrian people to assemble peacefully and to express themselves," Nuland said.
She added that he will likely observe protests on Friday as well. Pro-democracy activists have called for mass protests on Friday.
Hama has been the most recent site of the violent crackdown launched by the al-Assad regime in March against demonstrators demanding democratic reforms. More than two dozen protesters have been killed and security forces have reportedly encircled the city, prompting concerns of a wider and more bloody crackdown.
"We are greatly concerned about the situation in Hama," Nuland said.
"A week ago Hama was the good-news story," she said. "It was the town where people were being allowed to protest peacefully. And today we see security forces ringing the city."
Many Hama residents had begun fleeing in anticipation of a crackdown, as they saw the army intensify its presence and position tanks to the city's entrance ahead of Friday's demonstration.
More than 700 people have been arrested over the past two days in Hama, according to Avaaz Citizen Journalists.
The United States has already slapped sanctions on al-Assad on other Syrian officials for repressing the protests.
On June 21, Ford was among other diplomats who were escorted by the Syrian regime to the Syrian village of Tel Kalakh, near the Turkish border. Ford travelled to Hama independently, Nuland said.
Dozens of Hama residents have fled Hama in last few hours, as they saw that the Syrian army has intensified their presence and positioned tanks on the entrance of the city in anticipation for Friday's demonstration.