Military forces are everywhere, particularly in and around cities that have continued to field protesters on a regular basis in opposition to Bashar al Assad. Yet, Assad's forces have backed out of Hama for the moment, ceding control to the protesters themselves:
We saw a country that’s very much in revolt. We saw the army deployment inside Syria, which looked like an army occupation of a country.Journalists are unable to freely roam the country, and the reporters/photographers who provided the New York Times with this report put their lives in the hands of strangers and had to constantly worry about informers revealing their whereabouts to Syrian authorities.
In Hama, the revolt has begun to help Syrians imagine life after the father-and-son dictatorship.
We went into the city of Hama. It’s the fourth-largest city in Syria. It was interesting to us because it’s the only city where the security forces decided to withdraw after several deadly clashes with antigovernment protesters. Now, they’re basically outside the city. Inside, there’s no police, no army. It’s under the control of the protesters.
It was very tense — to be honest — and very, very difficult to work. We were taken in by some of the leaders of the protest movement. They were very nervous, especially of us getting seen by people who might be informers.
I mostly had to work at night and mostly from cars. I wasn’t allowed to roam around very much. The only thing I was able to do on the ground was join this protest that happened past midnight, which I hear happened every day. I was able to join the protesters for a half hour. Then I was whisked away in a car. The idea was to not get seen. There are a lot of informers for the regime still in the city. That could have created a huge problem for us and for the people who were taking care of us.
Syria continues warning US and French diplomats not to leave Damascus to view the scenes of protests themselves.
Up to 50 people have died in Homs this week alone.
Despite the bloodletting and increased carnage, the US has softened its rhetoric towards Assad's regime and has stopped short of calling for regime change after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ramped up the rhetoric last week following the kerfuffle over Ambassador Robert Ford's visit to Hama.
But Clinton backed off on Saturday, saying the administration still hopes that Assad's regime will stop the violence and work with protesters to carry out political reforms. On Monday, European Union ministers also called on Assad to implement reforms and made it clear they still hoped he would do so.I see this as a fundamental mistake as expect Assad to use this opportunity to further engage and eliminate opposition groups and protesters.
The change in tone reflects the continuing debate over whether Syria's ruler is likely to survive the current turmoil, and how best to use the limited diplomatic tools available to pressure him.
For now, a State Department official said, it's unclear whether the administration will ramp up the rhetoric and officially call for Assad's departure.
"Whether we take it farther will depend on events on the ground," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of diplomatic sensitivities. "We need to think through carefully what we say."
The administration has struggled to send a consistent message since antigovernment protests exploded across the Arab world in January.