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Ambassador Ford says satellite images proof of Syria government violence

U.S. ambassador Robert Ford spoke to NBC's Andrea Mitchell about the government violence that's being blamed on terrorists.

The U.S. ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, on Friday said he posted satellite imagery on Facebook to show proof of President Bashar al-Assad’s forces attacking residential neighborhoods.

Ford, speaking to NBC News from Paris days after the Feb. 6 closing of the U.S. Embassy in Damascus, said shelling by Syrian forces was “just horrific and we want that government violence to stop.”

Ford called Syrian government claims that terrorists are shelling Homs “ridiculous.” (The city sometimes is referred to as Hims in English.)

The commercial satellite image on Facebook, titled "Security Operations Escalate in Hims," is dated Feb. 6 and has labels pointing out burning buildings, smoke, impact craters, military vehicles and armored vehicles.

The western Syrian city of Homs, where opposition to Assad is strong, has endured a week of bombardments that have killed dozens of civilians and drawn condemnation from world leaders.

Photoblog: Satellite spots tanks near university housing complex in Homs

"I hear the devastating stories about newborns in Homs dying in hospitals where electricity has been cut and when we see disturbing photos offering proof that the regime is using mortars and artillery against residential neighborhoods, all of us become even more concerned about the tragic outcome for Syrian civilians," Ambassador Robert Ford wrote in a note accompanying the satellite image on Facebook.

He also appeared to take a veiled dig at Russia, which on Saturday vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria. Diplomats said one Russian objection was a belief that the resolution disproportionately blamed Syria's government for the violence.

"It is odd to me that anyone would try to equate the actions of the Syrian army and armed opposition groups since the Syrian government consistently initiates the attacks on civilian areas, and it is using its heaviest weapons," Ford wrote.

He also called Feb. 6 "the most emotionally taxing day of my career as a Foreign Service Officer."

"I left Damascus with immense sadness and regret -- I wish our departure had not been necessary, but our Embassy, along with several other diplomatic missions in the area, was not sufficiently protected, given the new security concerns in the capital," he wrote.

The State Department also posted images of Syrian military artillery supporting government operations around several cities, including Homs.

Also Friday, satellite image provider DigitalGlobe Inc. released photos that appear to show Syrian army tanks and other armored vehicles in the city of Homs.

DigitalGlobe said the images were taken late Friday morning Syrian time by the company's WorldView 2 satellite from about 480 miles above the Earth.

Stephen Wood, director of DigitalGlobe's analysis center, said the photos show tanks, armored personnel carriers and other armored vehicles in the southern part of the city, some of them near apartment buildings.

The satellite images show an increase in the level of army activity in and around Homs from the previous 24 hours, Wood said.

Wood said no battle damage was visible in the photos taken Friday, but previous images captured by the company's satellites did show the effects of fighting.

Homs looks deserted, with very few cars on the streets in the satellite photos, he said.

DigitalGlobe company has been gathering satellite photos of Syria since mid-2011, he said.

Also in Syria:

Bombs: Two suicide bombers attacked security compounds in the Syrian city of Aleppo, killing 28 people, according to Syrian government officials. Troops and security forces fired on anti-regime protesters as they left mosques after Friday prayers nationwide.

Anti-Assad activists denied any involvement and accused the regime of setting off the blasts to smear the opposition as government forces pummel rebels in one of their main strongholds, Homs. State media touted the bombings as proof the regime faces a campaign by terrorists, not a popular uprising.

However, McClatchy News cited U.S. official blaming an Iraqi al-Qaida branch for the blasts to exploit the situation. The officials quoted by McClatchy cited U.S. intelligence reports, which appear to verify Assad's charges of al Qaida involvement in the 11-month uprising against his rule.

Photoblog: Explosions hit security HQs in Aleppo, Syria 

Exit strategy: The Obama administration says it is seeing growing signs that the Syrian elite, including people close to Assad, are increasingly worried and beginning to prepare exit plans.

Two U.S. officials said Friday that one Assad family member has moved large amounts of money out of the country to avoid U.S. and other sanctions on the country and provide a nest egg for a life in exile. Similarly, a senior member of Assad's national security circle has very recently left the country and appears to have settled abroad, they said.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss classified intelligence. They would not identify either the family member or the official or give specifics about the money transfer or the apparent defection. But the examples they cited suggest a new level of planning and worry among the senior regime.

In response to a question about whether the wealthy were fleeing the regime, the State Department said it had information that elite Syrians were looking for help from the opposition Syrian National Council in getting cash and relatives out of the country.

"We are beginning to see this trend accelerate," spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.

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