- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 16, 2011


The U.S. ambassador in Syria is warning that the widespread peaceful protests against President Bashar Assad could erupt into civil war, while the Syrian Embassy in Washington is howling over charges it is intimidating Syrian dissidents in the United States.

Ambassador Robert Ford accused Mr. Assad’s regime of fomenting tensions among ethnic and religious groups in an attempt to undermine anti-government protests that broke out in March.

“I worry a great deal when people say that sectarian civil war can’t happen here,” he told Washington reporters in an Internet news conference from the Syrian capital, Damascus.

“It reminds me of what I heard in Iraq in 2004,” he added.

Mr. Ford was the political counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad in 2004, when widespread unrest broke out across Iraq.

The ambassador also warned Syrian demonstrators against taking up arms because of the strength of Syrian security forces, which already have killed as many as 3,000 protesters, according to new U.N. report.

“The reality is that Syrian forces are very strong,” he told reporters, who gathered at the Washington Institute for Near East Studies to participate in the news conference.

“There is not an armed opposition capable” of confronting the Syrian police and army, he said.

In Washington, the Syrian Embassy is denying reports that its diplomats are intimidating Syrians in the United States who speak out against Mr. Assad’s regime.

The embassy has accused “individuals and the media” of spreading “lies and distortions,” and denounced Amnesty International for reporting on what one activist described as “patterns of repression” against Syrian dissidents in the United States, Canada, France, Britain and other countries.

The embassy denounced the “heinous report from Amnesty International.”

“These preposterous allegations claim that the embassy is involved in targeting or intimidating Syrian expatriates in the U.S., which is absolutely untrue,” the embassy said.

However, Alex Neve, secretary-general of Amnesty International Canada, said the human rights group has documented accounts of Syrian dissidents being “singled out for threats, attacks and reprisals” from Syrian diplomats and from Syria’s Mukhabarat intelligence service.

“Their relatives and friends in Syria have often paid a steep price. some have been imprisoned, other badly beaten,” Mr. Neve wrote in Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper.

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