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.
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
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
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
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.