Syria accuses US of destabilizing influence
The Syrian government has accused the United States of trying to destabilize the Middle Eastern country after an authorized visit by a US diplomat to the western city of Hama.
The visit was a "clear evidence of the US involvement in the ongoing events in Syria and its bids to aggravate the situations which destabilize Syria," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement quoted by state news agency SANA late Thursday.
US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said earlier Thursday that ambassador Robert Ford travelled to Hama after the embassy informed the Syrian government of the plans, DPA reported.
"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.
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.