'Armed crowds storm embassies in Damascus'

Saudi Foreign Ministry "strongly condemns" incident, claims Syrian security forces didn't stop pro-Assad mob from ransacking embassy.

Pro-Assad protesters in Syria 311 (R) (photo credit: Reuters / Handout)
Pro-Assad protesters in Syria 311 (R)
(photo credit: Reuters / Handout)
AMMAN - Crowds armed with sticks and knives attacked the Saudi Arabian embassy in Damascus and French and Turkish consulates in the city of Latakia on Saturday after the Arab League suspended Syria, residents said.
They said hundreds of men shouting slogans in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad beat a guard and broke into the Saudi embassy in Abu Rummaneh, three blocks away from Assad's offices in one of the most heavily policed areas of the capital.
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"We sacrifice our blood and our soul for you, Bashar," the crowd shouted, according to neighborhood residents.
The Saudi Foreign Ministry said in a statement that a group of demonstrators "gathered outside the embassy, threw stones at it, then stormed the building".
The statement, carried by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA), said Syrian security forces "did not take measures to stop them ransacking the embassy", adding that the demonstrators stayed inside for a while before they were ordered out by Syrian security.
"The kingdom of Saudi Arabia strongly condemns this incident and holds Syrian authorities responsible for the security and protection of Saudi interests and citizens in Syria".
Saudi Arabia withdrew its ambassador from Damascus in August, when King Abdullah demanded an end to the crackdown.
Similar attacks took place in Latakia, 330 kms (210 miles)north of Damascus on the Mediterranean coast, where French and Turkish consulates were the targets of angry crowds, residents said.
A French Foreign Ministry spokesman said France had only an honorary consulate in Latakia and he was unaware of it having been attacked. He quoted the French ambassador to Syria as saying late on Saturday that he was unaware of any attacks on French diplomatic or other interests in Syria.
The attacks took place hours after the Arab League suspended Syria for failing to carry out a promise to halt its armed crackdown on eight-month-old pro-democracy demonstrations and open a dialogue with its opponents.
A senior diplomat in Damascus confirmed the attacks. "They did a fair bit of damage to the Saudi embassy. We do not have the full picture from Latakia, but the attacks there appear to have been really bad," the diplomat said.
A crowd held a pro-Assad demonstration in front of the Qatari embassy in Damascus earlier in the day. Qatar is the current head of the Arab League.