US, French Ambassadors Return to Damascus
U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford returns to Syria Wednesday as government-backed violence against civilians continues to wrack the country.
French Ambassador Eric Chevallier returned Monday to Damascus, sources told the AFP, after being recalled on November 16 following attacks on French diplomatic missions in Syria amidst the nation's rising civil war.
Ford's return comes as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with seven members of the opposition Syrian National Council in Geneva.
Clinton warned in a briefing with journalists Tuesday that a transition to democracy is not as simple as just removing President Bashar al-Assad from office. "It means setting Syria on the path of the rule of law and protecting the universal rights of all citizens, regardless of secct or ethnicity or gender," she told reporters.
A senior State Department official, meanwhile, explained that Ford was being returned because he "has completed his consultations in Washington." Ford was recalled -- fled, in fact -- on October 24 after his safety was blatantly threatened by Assad loyalists in response to his open support for civilian anti-government protesters.
Meanwhile, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem sent a letter Sunday night -- at the eleventh hour of an Arab League-imposed deadline -- agreeing to a delegation of observers that was to ensure that government forces would comply with an agreement previously signed in Cairo between Damascus and the Arab League to end the civil war. However, the letter cagily stated the Assad regime would accept the observers only under certain conditions -- including one that nullifies all prior decisions, sanctions and suspensions against Syria by the Arab League.
The letter had the effect of delaying a move by the Arab League to involved the United Nations. The 22-member body is now reviewing the letter, and "consultations" among its foreign ministers are now underway, as the death toll in Syria continues to rise.
On Tuesday, five civilians were shot dead in the fighting, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
"There are fierce battles in [the province of] Dara'a between groups of [Syrian Army] deserters and the regular security forces trying to break into Da'el and raid the town to make arrests," the group reported.
The United Nations has estimated that more than 4,000 people have been killed in the violence, with the death toll rising daily. Thousands more have been wounded and tortured, including children, after being arbitrarily arrested and detained -- some of whom subsequently "disappear." Activists and human rights organizations place the death toll far higher, at close to 5,000 dead.