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U.S. Envoy Leaves Syria Over ‘Credible Threats’ to Safety

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
Ford, who has been a critic of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s violent crackdown on protesters over the past seven months, escaped a violent mob of government supporters last month while visiting opposition lawyer Hasan Abdul-Azim at his office in Damascus. Source: Xinhua/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

The U.S. ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, left the country after “credible threats against his safety,” Haynes Mahoney, the American Embassy’s deputy chief of mission, said today by phone from Damascus.

The threat level was determined based on “incitement in the government-controlled media,” Mahoney said, adding that Ford’s return to Syria will depend on “the security assessment on the ground.”

“We hope that the Syrian regime will end its incitement campaign against Ambassador Ford,” Mark Toner, a State Department spokesman, told reporters in Washington today. “This decision was based solely on the need to ensure his safety, a matter we take extremely seriously.”

Protests against President Bashar al-Assad’s Assad’s rule have swept Syria since mid-March, inspired by the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. Assad has blamed the unrest on Islamic militants and foreign provocateurs, and sent security forces to crush the protests, leaving more than 4,000 dead according to human rights groups. He has rejected U.S. and European demands that he step down.

Ford, who has criticized the crackdown, escaped a violent mob of government supporters last month while visiting opposition lawyer Hasan Abdul-Azim at his office in Damascus. The ambassador said that protesters hurled concrete blocks at his car and attacked it with iron bars.

Ford arrived in Damascus in January, filling a position that had been vacant for six years. Former President George W. Bush recalled his envoy to Damascus in February 2005 following Syria’s alleged involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.

President Barack Obama’s administration said before the unrest began that engagement with Syria was a key part of its effort to make peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

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