U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford Calls Crackdown in Hama 'Grotesque' and 'Abhorrent'


U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford condemned the Syrian military crackdownagainst a civilian uprising in the city of Hama, calling the violence there "grotesque" and "abhorrent."

As international condemnation grows, he said the United States would "try to ratchet up the pressure" on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, including through new sanctions.

"The violence that the Syrian government is inflicting on Syrian protesters, from our point of view, is grotesque. It's abhorrent," Ford told "This Week" anchor Christiane Amanpour in a U.S. exclusive. "So we are looking at additional unilateral measures, but also measures that we can work with partners to get the Syrian government to stop shooting protesters, to release political prisoners and to stop these arrest campaigns."

More than 200 civilians have reportedly been killed in Hama, a city of 700,000 in central Syria, since the army launched its latest crackdown last week, the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan.

Telecommunications, electricity and water supply have been cut for the past 48 hours and there are reports of shortages in food as well as medical equipment.

As army tanks took over the city's central square last Wednesday, the United Nations Security Council condemned the violence and called for restraint.

New reports Sunday said the Syrian military had broadened its crackdown on anti-government descent to the city of Deir al-Zour, deploying tanks to the eastern city that has been another major center of civilian protest in recent months.

"What the government is doing now is, it's literally going house to house and it's rounding up people," Ford said. "There is no due process. There's a lot of violence. There's shooting…. It's frightful. It's abominable."

The city of Hama is known as the site of a brutal crackdown in 1982, when Syrian security forces killed at least 20,000 civilians to crush a rebellion there.

Ford traveled to Hama in July to show support for growing demonstrations there against the Syrian regime; he was greeted warmly with some supporters throwing flowers at his vehicle.

"They're certainly angry with my trip to Hama," Ford said of the Syrian government. "I don't particularly care, because we have to show our solidarity with peaceful protesters. I'd do it again tomorrow if I had to… I'm going keep moving around the country. I can't stop."

Ford expressed concern that a similar crackdown to the one in 1982 could happen today, saying that the Syrian government has rounded up individuals who met with him in July.

"I mean literally dozens of people have been killed in the last week," Ford said. "I'm personally very nervous about the fate of some of the people I met. I fear that they're either now under arrest or may be dead."

"That's the kind of repression that we're talking about," he added. "It's important to bear witness, and it's important to relay a message of support."

Ford has relied on unconventional methods for a diplomat, using Facebook to reach Syrian citizens and meeting them in person, while voicing direct criticism at the Syrian regime.

"My whole purpose in being in Syria is to be able to communicate, not only with the Syrian government but with the Syrian people more generally," Ford said. "I will be very frank."

Ford reiterated the U.S. government position that says Assad and "his government will be left in the past."

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