J. Scott Applewhite/AP
With concern mounting over the crisis in Syria and President Bashar Assad's crackdown on dissent, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, below right, meets with a small group of expatriate Syrian opposition members Tuesday at the Intercontinental Hotel in Geneva, Switzerland.
The United States called for a new regime of tolerance and freedom in Syria on Tuesday as forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad battled fighters infiltrating the country to join the growing rebel army trying to overthrow him.
Speaking after meeting members of the opposition Syrian National Council in Geneva, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Syrians must not only remove Assad but also advance towards the rule of law.
"A democratic transition includes more than removing the Assad regime," Clinton said.
"It means setting Syria on the path of the rule of law and protecting the universal rights of all citizens regardless of sect or ethnicity or gender," she told reporters.
What began nearly nine months ago as a peaceful protest against Assad, inspired by the Arab Spring in Tunisia and Egypt, is creeping closer to civil war as armed opposition groups organize and move into some city districts.
The United States, the European Union, Turkey and Jordan have called on Assad to step down in order to bring the violence to an end and permit democratic elections for a new government in a country where the Assad family has ruled for 40 years.
Time Magazine's Bobby Ghosh explains the uprising in Syria.
On Tuesday, the official Syrian news agency SANA reported that Syrian border guards blocked an infiltration attempt from Turkey by about 35 "armed terrorists."
US ambassador returning
The meeting in Geneva came as the State Department announced that the U.S. Ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, is returning to his post in Damascus.
Ford, who was recalled in late October, is due to return to Syria overnight despite the Assad government's continuing crackdown on reformers, the department said. The administration has argued that Ford's presence in Syria is important for advancing U.S. policy goals by meeting with opposition figures and serving as a witness to the ongoing violence.
"He 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 in a statement.
"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," he said.
Ford was brought back from Syria on Oct. 22, prompting the Syrian government to recall its ambassador to Washington.
In September, Ford and several colleagues were pelted with tomatoes and eggs by a violent mob as they entered the office of a prominent Syrian opposition figure. No one was injured, but officials said several heavily armored embassy vehicles sent to help extricate them from the situation were badly damaged with broken windows and dents when the same crowd hurled rocks.
Ford has angered the Syrian regime by visiting protest centers outside of Damascus in a show of solidarity with the anti-government uprising. Those incidents have further raised tensions between Washington and Damascus, which has accused the United States of helping incite violence in Syria.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.
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