US envoy found Syrian town 'empty'

22 Jun 2011

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. Most residents had already fled fearing an onslaught after being accused of massacring security forces. - (File Photo)

WASHINGTON: The US ambassador in Damascus has visited northern Syria and found the flashpoint Syrian town of Jisr al-Shughur to be badly damaged and deserted, the State Department said Tuesday.

Syrian troops seized the town, long a hotbed of hostility towards the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, on June 13. Most residents had already fled fearing an onslaught after being accused of massacring security forces.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Ambassador Robert Ford, and envoys from other countries, had been given a tour of Jisr al-Shughur by Syrian officials on Monday.

“He was briefed there by Syrian military intelligence. And the ambassador had a chance, along with his diplomatic colleagues, to see for himself the results of the Syrian government's brutality,” she told reporters.

“What they saw was an empty town,” Nuland said. “He will be making a report.” He will be analyzing what he heard from Syrian officials, and he will be continuing to make our views known, not only to the government of Syria, but to the opposition, that this brutality has got to end,” Nuland said.

When pressed to explain what signs of brutality Ford saw, Nuland replied: “Well, you see an empty town with significant damage.” Nuland suggested there were other areas along the border with Turkey that US officials would like to see.

“I don't believe that they toured the entire border, but we are extremely concerned about these reports that the Syrian government is sealing the border, is not allowing refugees to go across, is denying humanitarian aid.

“It's just further to the brutality that we've been seeing,” Nuland said.

Assad's government has dispatched troops to quell pro-democracy demonstrations that erupted in March in cities around the country, following similar demonstrations in the Middle East and North Africa.

Since June 7, some 500 to 1,000 people have been crossing from Syria into Turkey daily to escape the violence. More than 10,000 Syrian refugees are currently sheltered by Turkish authorities in four camps along the border of the two countries.