By Julian Pecquet - 06/05/12 03:20 PM EDT
Syria on Tuesday expelled ambassadors from the United States and several other countries in tit-for-tat retaliation for similar moves against Syrian diplomats last week.
President Bashar Assad's government expelled top diplomats from the United States, Great Britain, Switzerland, France, Italy, Spain, Turkey, Belgium, Canada and Germany, according to reports from the region.
The decision comes after the United States and several other countries expelled Syrian diplomats in a coordinated response to the massacre of 108 civilians in Houla, which western countries blame on Syrian government forces and their allies.
The move is the latest evidence that relations between Syria and the international community are rapidly deteriorating as the anti-government protests that began in March 2011 threaten to create an all-out sectarian civil war. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is slated to meet with former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan this week as the U.N./Arab League envoy's peace plan unravels.
This isn't the first time U.S. ambassador Robert Ford has had to leave the country since taking his post in January 2011. Ford, the first U.S. ambassador to Damascus since 2005, was recalled last October following “credible threats” to his safety after he supported pro-democracy protests that began in March 2011; he returned on Dec. 6.
Ford “will continue the work he was doing previously; namely, delivering the United States’ message to the people of Syria; providing reliable reporting on the situation on the ground; and engaging with the full spectrum of Syrian society on how to end the bloodshed and achieve a peaceful political transition,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said at the time. “We believe his presence in the country is among the most effective ways to send the message that the United States stands with the people of Syria.”