The Consul at Beirut (Knabenshue) to the Secretary of State
[Received 4:25 p.m.]
Referring to my telegram of February 17, 5 p.m. Melikian released on payment $1,700 ransom. Melikian states that rebels have definitely decided to kidnap Keeley and other rich Americans for the purpose of ransom and to cause American interference in Syrian situation. I have sent following telegram to Keeley today by French wireless telegraphy as telegraph, telephone and railway are cut:
“February 20, 1 p.m. I strongly recommend you advise all Americans leave Damascus immediately and that you send your wife and child to Beirut escorted by McGonigal who will return to Damascus and that you demand of French an adequate military guard for your constant protection. If you or other Americans are kidnapped demand will be made that French pay the ransom.”
Severe fighting has taken place in the city of Damascus throughout this entire week being particularly severe on the 17th when French resorted to bombardment of Meidan quarter throughout the day while a large fire swept that quarter that night. Considerable damage to life and property but extent thereof unknown at present.
There is also activity in other sections of the country and Altaffer66 reports that reign of terror prevails among inhabitants of Syrian towns on frontier anticipating attacks from Turkish bands.
Indications are that Druses and other rebels will commence active operations before French complete arrangements for their expected spring campaign.
… Economic conditions throughout country deplorable. Nearly 200 bankrupt petitions now filed in Beirut.
Sent to the Department and Embassy at Paris.
- Maurice W. Altaffer, vice consul at Aleppo.↩