After Hama, US and French ambassadors to Damascus, Robert Ford and Eric Chevalier, plan a second round of visits to protest centers Friday, July 15, when they will try to reach the eastern Syrian oil town of Deir al-Zour on the Iraqi border to meet opposition leaders, although debkafile's intelligence sources report government forces are poised to stop them. Wednesday, July 13, an oil pipeline connecting al-Omar field and al-Taim oil station belonging to the Euphrates Oil Company in the Deir al-Zour province was bombed – the first attacks on Syria's energy infrastructure since the uprisings erupted four months ago.
Friday, Deir al-Zour's half a million dwellers will be staging their fifth consecutive weekly anti-Assad rally, braving the two 9th Division tank brigades and commando units besieging the city and using live ammunition against them. If the ambassadors gain entry to Deir al-Zour, they will also make for another flashpoint Euphrates Valley city, the much smaller Abu Kemal (100,000).
The decision to finally challenge Assad's rule was approved in frantic consultations Tuesday, July 12, between Presidents Barack Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy, putting Ambassadors Ford and Chevalier on the front line after the success of their solidarity gesture in Hama.
Sources in Washington and Paris said that the White House and the Elysée are well aware of the dangers the diplomats will be running from trigger-happy Syrian troops, but both envoys have offered to face danger for the sake of challenging the Assad regime and its brutal methods of repression.
The "national dialogue" staged by the Syrian ruler earlier this week broke down after most of the opposition representatives walked out and the street protesters boycotted it. A senior US source described the project as a farce.
Tuesday, after four months of holding back, President Obama finally came out with a statement condemning the Syrian ruler by name: "You're seeing President Assad lose legitimacy in the eyes of his people," he said in a CBS interview, although he still refrained from telling him outright to resign like Egypt's Hosni Mubarak and Libya's Muammar Qaddafi.
Monday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared: "President Assad is not indispensable and we have absolutely nothing invested in him remaining in power." She spoke after pro-Assad thugs smashed into the US and French embassies following the ambassadors visit to Hama on July 8.
The French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said the pro-Assad loyalists attacks on the embassies made it increasingly difficult for Syrian ruler to stay in power.
US officials predict that having crossed a key threshold, the White House will be more outspoken against Assad in the days to come and is already preparing new sanctions for hitting Syria's only source of foreign currency revenue, the oil industry. Sales estimated at $7-8 million a day bankroll Assad's military crackdown on dissent.
debkafile's sources note that the ambassadors' visit to Hama underscored US and French solidarity with the Sunni Muslim uprising in northern Syrias spearheaded by the Assad clan's traditional foe, the Muslim Brotherhood. In Deir al-Zour and Abu Kemal, they will be demonstrating support for a second opposition group made up of Sunni tribes dominated by the million-strong Shammar of eastern Syria and three million Kurds.
Deir al-Zourr is the largest city in the province and it has a mixed Shammar-Kurdish population.