U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held a rare meeting with seven Syrian opposition leaders in Geneva Tuesday as the U.S. ambassador returned to Damascus after a six-week absence.
Clinton told senior members of the Syrian National Council who are all exiles in Europe, a democratic transition is more than removing the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. She said “it means setting the country on the path of the rule of law and protecting the universal rights of all citizens, regardless of sect or ethnicity or gender.”
It was Clinton’s first meeting with the seven individuals, who included the council’s president and its human rights and civil society coordinator.
Also Tuesday, the U.S. ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, returned to Damascus after being recalled in late October for safety reasons. Ford had angered Syrian officials for meeting with opposition leaders and publicly showing support for protesters.
Meanwhile, violence has escalated in the last 24 hours, with activists reporting more than 50 deaths in a continuing government crackdown on dissent.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told VOA more than 20 of the 34 people reported kidnapped and killed on Monday in Homs were dumped in the streets overnight. The head of the Britain-based group said the circumstances surrounding the deaths remain unclear, but that none of the deaths occurred during pro-democracy demonstrations.
The Assad government received words of support from Lebanon’s Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah on Tuesday.
During a speech in Beirut marking the Shi’ite ritual of Ashura, Nasrallah lashed out against the United States, accusing it of seeking to destroy Syria. He said he is in favor of Mr. Assad’s plans for reform.
The United States and its allies have been trying to isolate the Assad government in response to its nine-month crackdown on protests.
The United Nations estimates that unrest-related violence in Syria has killed more than 4,000 people since the uprising began in March.