US condemns 'intimidation' of envoy in Damascus

White House calls assault by Assad supporters who hurl rocks, tomatoes at US ambassador to Syria's convoy "unwarranted and unjustifiable."

Pro-Assad protesters in Syria 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Pro-Assad protesters in Syria 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The US on Thursday condemned an attack against its ambassador to Syria, calling it an attempt to intimidate a diplomat witnessing the "brutality" of the government.
Supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad hurled rocks and tomatoes at US ambassador Robert Ford's convoy as he visited an opposition figure in Damascus on Thursday and Syria accused Washington of inciting violence and meddling in its affairs.
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"These kinds of assaults against diplomatic personnel, including our ambassador, are unwarranted and unjustifiable," White House spokesman Jay Carney told a daily news briefing.
Assad's crackdown on six months of pro-democracy protests has envenomed relations with the United States, which has imposed fresh sanctions and rallied world pressure on Syria.
US President Barack Obama took office in 2009 pledging to engage in dialogue with Damascus and named Ford as ambassador.
"Two embassy cars were damaged," said a witness, who asked not to be identified, adding that the demonstrators were chanting "Abu Hafez (father of Hafez)", a nickname for Assad.
The diplomats were visiting Hassan Abdelazim, a centrist politician who has demanded an end to Assad's crackdown as a condition for any opposition dialogue with the president.
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Ford was already inside the building when about 200 Assad supporters attacked the embassy vehicles with large rocks and street signs with concrete bases. Embassy staff inside the vehicles were not harmed. Police later extracted the convoy.
The Syrian government said that once they were alerted to the confrontation, authorities "took all necessary procedures to protect the ambassador and his team and secure their return to their place of work." There was no immediate comment from the State Department in Washington.
Soon after the incident, the Syrian Foreign Ministry issued a statement accusing the United States of "encouraging armed groups to practice violence against the Syrian Arab Army".
The attack was the second on US diplomats since protests erupted in March. Assad supporters assaulted the US embassy in July after Ford visited the flashpoint city of Hama, winning cheers from protesters who later faced a tank-led crackdown.