The US ambassador to Syria had a ringside view on Syria’s popular uprising today, watching from a hotel balcony as an estimated half a million residents of Hama flooded into a central square to chant for the downfall of the Assad regime.
Three separate sources in the city, all experienced activists, estimated the size of the crowd between 500,000 and 600,000 which, if confirmed, would make it the largest ever protest against the Assad family’s 41-year dictatorship.
In the absence of security forces, the massive gathering appeared to have an almost carnival-like atmosphere, with protestors carrying a giant Syrian flag extended for hundreds of meters through the centre of the city while the main clock tower has been draped in a purple banner reading, ““Long live free Syria. Down with Bashar al-Assad.”
SANA, the state-run news agency, criticized Ford for visiting Hama without authorization from the Foreign Affairs Ministry, saying the visit gave “clear evidence of the US involvement in the events taking place in Syria and its attempt to escalate the situation, which disturbs the security and stability of the country.”
"The fundamental intention was to make absolutely clear with his physical presence that we stand with those Syrians who are expressing their right to speak for change," said a statement from the US State Department,
“The visit by the US ambassador is a move we welcome and the residents appreciate it highly because it is another indication that the world is on our side,” a local activist told Al Jazeera.
He said that the ambassador, Robert Ford - who was appointed directly by US President Obama to Damascus in late December 2010, the first American ambassador to Damascus since 2005 - had visited two hospitals in the city to speak to wounded protesters and doctors.
Ford’s visit followed a week in which the regime sought to wrest control back in Hama by force, killing at least 35 people in the past three days and arresting more than 700 in the, according to reporting gathered by Avaaz, an international human rights group.