Syria warns French, US envoys not to visit provinces

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Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem warned the French and US ambassadors on Wednesday not to travel outside Damascus after they both visited the flashpoint central city of Hama earlier this month. “We will impose a ban on any (diplomatic) travel more than 25 kilometres (15 miles) outside Damascus, if the ambassadors continue to ignore (our) guidance,” Muallem told the envoys at a meeting broadcast by state television. “I hope that we will not be forced to impose the ban,” he added. “We did not expel the two ambassadors because we had hoped to maintain better relations in future.” Both US envoy Robert Ford and French ambassador Eric Chevallier visited Hama on July 7 amid repeated large demonstrations in the city against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad. Damascus reacted furiously to the visit, accusing the US ambassador of seeking to undermine the stability of Syria and calling in both envoys for consultations on July 10. The Syrian authorities accused the pair of travelling to Hama without authorisation but Washington insisted Damascus had been notified in advance. “The US ambassador met with saboteurs in Hama… who erected checkpoints, cut traffic and prevented citizens from going to work,” an interior ministry statement said at the time. The foreign ministry called Ford’s presence in Hama “obvious proof of the implication of the United States in the ongoing events, and of their attempts to increase (tensions), which damage Syria’s security and stability.”