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Terrorism & Security

Syrian Army deploys in port city after a violent weekend

Syria admitted for the first time that it is using force to put down protests after nine soldiers were killed in an ambush in the port city of Banias.

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While President Barack Obama condemned the "abhorrent violence committed against peaceful protesters by the Syrian government," as well as any use of violence by protesters, the US and international response has been muted in comparison with their statements on other Arab countries such as Yemen.

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But Washington's relationship with Syria is a delicate one, with a US ambassador returning only this year after his predecessor was withdrawn in 2005 amid concerns of state-sponsored terrorism. Obama's administration has tried to woo Syria away from Iran and undermine its support for Hezbollah and Hamas, both of which pose a threat to US ally Israel.

In a column published by The Huffington Post, former US ambassador to Morocco Marc Ginsberg wrote that the White House's desire to engage Assad, while a reasonable effort, has ultimately been futile and should not prevent the US from taking a stronger stance against violence.

Aside from deploring Assad's use of deadly violence against his own people, President Obama needs to ratchet up the rhetoric against Assad and his regime to provide far more moral support to the protestors. If Obama could declare it was time for Qadaffi and Mubarak to go, this weekend's violence throughout Syria compels the White House to issue the same demand on Assad, with policy prescriptions to back that demand up.

The US appears to be waiting to see whether Assad will introduce reforms. Assad has attempted to put an end to protests by announcing that he is considering some of the central demands of protesters: the release of political prisoners and a lifting of the emergency law, in place since 1963.

But so far he has only made targeted concessions, such as granting citizenship to those in the Kurdish north who were previously labeled foreigners, CNN reported.

Many protesters are skeptical of Assad's promises of reform, which they have heard before. Many assume his promises will only last long enough for protests to lose steam, according to James Denselow, a Syria expert interviewed by Al Jazeera.

"When the Syrians say they are going to reform and they are going to open up things and this is the time, you have to question the intent and the timing. This is a regime that has been in power for decades ... we really have to wonder whether they are just looking to dissipate the protests and the momentum of these protests."

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