Conflict & Justice

Diplomats under attack in Damascus


US ambassador to Damascus Robert Ford had antagonized the Syrian regime with his high-profile support for the demonstrators trying to end 41 years of Assad family rule and last weekend was recalled to Washington over fears for his personal safety.



A trusted source with strong links to the diplomatic community in Damascus has told GlobalPost that at least 13 Western diplomats in Syria revealed in private conversations that they had suffered threats and abuse at the behest of the Assad regime, including kidnap, imprisonment, beatings and even raids on their homes.

The leak comes as Washington pulled its ambassador, Robert Ford, out of Syria citing "credible threats against his personal safety in Syria," prompting Damascus to recall its ambassador from Washington, plunging US-Syrian relations to their lowest ebb since 2005.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Ford was expected to return to Syria and demanded the Syrian government provide for his protection and end what she called a "smear campaign of malicious and deceitful propaganda" against him.

"The concern here is that the kinds of falsehoods that are being spread about Ambassador Ford could lead to violence against him, whether it's by citizens, whether it's by ... thugs of one kind or another," she said.

The US has called for Assad to step down and Ford had antagonized the Syrian regime with his high-profile support for the demonstrators trying to end 41 years of Assad family rule. Ford’s convoy was pelted with eggs after he visited a senior opposition figure in Damascus and the US embassy has come under attack from Assad’s supporters.

Read GlobalPost: US ambassador journeys to heart of Syria’s revolt

GlobalPost’s source said the final straw appeared to have come after Ford’s private residence was raided by security forces and wrecked while he was not at home.

A second US embassy official had earlier in the uprising, which began in mid-March, been arrested while watching a protest and detained for several hours. Under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, foreign diplomats must be protected by the host country from coercion or harassment.

In other incidents reported to GlobalPost’s source, all of which took place between April and mid October, two Dutch diplomats, one from the embassy in Damascus and one from Beirut, were kidnapped in the northern Bekaa valley, an area controlled by Hezbollah and other Syrian allies, and driven to Syria. They were released two weeks later in Damascus.

Three Canadian diplomats reported being held up in their armoured car by Syrian security forces for two hours after they were spotted filming a protest. The security forces reportedly attempted to drag the diplomats out of the car and forced them to hand over the camera's memory card, which the diplomats had wiped clean.

A staff member from the British embassy in Damascus was beaten in the street by pro-Assad thugs, suffering bruises, while a second British diplomat’s home was raided and ransacked.

Three other European diplomats had their houses raided and ransacked and one was arrested.

“They don’t understand the extent of the problem they have,” a senior Western diplomat in Damascus told GlobalPost. “It’s not an international problem, it’s a Syrian problem with their own people. Until they address this, the future international outlook is for increased isolation. Syria could look increasingly like North Korea.”