- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 27, 2011

Syrian rebels who have shaken the regime in Damascus do not want U.S. assistance, at least for now, a Syrian dissident in close touch with the network of protesters told The Washington Times on Sunday.

Ammar Abdulhamid, who has emerged as an unofficial spokesman in the West for the activists organizing the Syrian protests, said, however, that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was wrong to refer to Syrian President Bashar Assad as a reformer on CBS News on Sunday.

“It was ridiculous to call Bashar Assad a reformer. She should not have done that,” he said.

Mrs. Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said the United States for now would not come to the aid of Syrians demonstrating against the rule of Mr. Assad.

When asked about Mr. Assad’s now-deceased father’s decision to wipe out Sunni protesters in the city of Hama in 1982, Mrs. Clinton said the current Syrian president was different from his father.

“Many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he’s a reformer,” Mrs. Clinton said of Mr. Assad.

“What’s been happening there the last few weeks is deeply concerning, but there’s a difference between calling out aircraft and indiscriminately strafing and bombing your own cities and then police actions, which, frankly, have exceeded the use of force that any of us would want to see.”

Mrs. Clinton also indicated that the Libyan intervention was backed by several international bodies, while no such international support exists for U.S.-led action in Syria.

“If there were a coalition of the international community, if there were the passage of a Security Council resolution, if there were a call by the Arab League, if there was a condemnation that was universal,” Mrs. Clinton said in response to a question, asking whether the United States would intervene in Syria.

“But that is not going to happen, because I don’t think that it’s yet clear what will occur, what will unfold.”

Mr. Abdulhamid said Mrs. Clinton’s words were “calibrated to different audiences.”

“I don’t think many Syrians wanted to see the Americans taking too strong a line on these developments, because the regime is already saying it’s an American conspiracy,” he added.

“That is important. On the other hand, she did not rule out that there could be assistance in the future if there were more massacres.”

Protests spread over the weekend to the seaside town of Latakia, and on Sunday local press reported that at least 12 people had been killed by pro-government militias. At least 60 demonstrators have been killed in the protests this month.

Buthaina Shaaban, a spokeswoman for the government, said last week that the regime will lift the emergency law that has been in place since 1963, but it was unclear what that would mean. That law gives the government nearly unlimited authority to detain, imprison and interrogate Syrian citizens.

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