US recalls Syrian envoy after threats

US recalls Syrian envoy after threats

Robert Ford left as a crackdown on protests and a nascent armed insurgency intensified despite Western condemnation, and more businesses and shops closed in southern Syria in the most sustained strike of the seven-month uprising.

His departure signals a further deterioration of relations between Syria’s rulers and Washington, which has called for Assad to step down and deepened sanctions on Damascus to include the country’s small but key oil sector.

Safety first

“Ambassador Robert Ford was brought back to Washington as a result of credible threats against his personal safety in Syria,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said on Monday. “At this point, we can’t say when he will return to Syria. It will depend on our assessment of Syrian regime-led incitement and the security situation on the ground.”

Asked if the United States had any plans to expel the Syrian ambassador to Washington, Imad Moustapha, a US official said: “Not at this time.”

In the central city of Homs, 140 km north of Damascus, two people were killed when troops and loyalist militiamen fired at majority Sunni Muslim districts that have been a bastion for protests and, lately, a refuge for army defectors leading armed resistance emerging there, residents said. Syria is dominated by Assad’s minority Alawite sect.

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