US slams Syria for 'outrageous' embassy attack

By REUTERS
July 11, 2011 22:30

Washington: Syria refused to protect its embassy, attack encouraged by pro-gov't TV station; French embassy, US ambassdor's home also attacked.

3 minute read.



Pro-Assad protesters in Syria [illustrative]

Pro-Assad protesters in Syria 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

WASHINGTON - The United States on Monday condemned Syria for refusing to protect the US embassy in Damascus from an "outrageous" attack by government loyalists it said were seeking to divert attention from Syria's internal political crisis.

The State Department said mobs assaulted both the US embassy compound and the US ambassador's residence, but that no staff were injured or ever in any imminent danger.

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State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said the assault occurred one day after US Ambassador Robert Ford met with Syria's foreign minister to discuss embassy security after protesters hurled rocks and food in a demonstration over the weekend. The Syrian official had pledged things would improve.

"No sooner does he make that pledge when today we have thugs going over the walls," Nuland told a news briefing.

"We consider that the Syrian government has not lived up to its obligations under the Vienna Convention to protect diplomatic facilities. It's absolutely outrageous."

Crowds loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad attacked the US and French embassies in Damascus on Monday, diplomats said, three days after the French and US ambassadors visited the city of Hama in a show of support for pro-democracy protests.

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Syrian forces killed at least one civilian and injured 20 in another city, Homs, on Monday during the heaviest raids on the city since troops deployed there two months ago to crush dissent against Assad, residents said.

Nuland said Syria's charge d'affaires was being summoned to the State Department on Monday to receive a formal complaint, and that US officials were studying further steps to improve security at the embassy complex.

The State Department said the embassy complex sustained some physical damage including broken windows and spray painted graffiti in the attack, which underscored a marked increase in tensions between Washington and Damascus.

"We had US Marines around the facility and when they made it clear that they were prepared to defend our facility the mob went back over the walls," Nuland said.

Protesters also attacked the ambassador's residence, located several blocks away, before security drove them off.

'Embassy attacks are a diversion'

Nuland said the United States was concerned that a pro-government television station had encouraged the violent attack, which she said was clearly an effort by Assad's government to divert attention as protests against his rule continue to escalate.

"Our main concern here is that the Syrian government, rather than dealing with its own internal problems and rather than addressing the grievances of its own people, is seeking to make distractions around our embassy," she said.

The Obama administration has steadily toughened its rhetoric on Assad as Syrian security forces crack down on pro-democracy protests. But it has not declared that he has lost his legitimacy to rule as it did following protests against longtime leaders in Egypt and Libya.

The United States has imposed targeted sanctions on Assad and members of his inner circle, and has said it is working with its allies to build international consensus for further steps to put pressure on his government.

Nuland said the United States rejected Syria's assertion that Ford had sought to "incite" protests in Hama on Friday.

The Assad government's promises of reform sounded increasingly hollow, she said.

"There does not seem to be any serious effort to lead a serious transition ... they're trying to talk the talk, but they're not walking the walk," she said.


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