Assad loyalists storm US, French embassies in Syria

Syrian crowds attack French embassy in Damascus, are driven off by live fire from guards; Assad loyalists briefly break into US embassy; move follows US, French ambassadorial visits to Hama.

Syrians shout slogans in protests 311 (photo credit: REUTERS/Stringer )
Syrians shout slogans in protests 311
(photo credit: REUTERS/Stringer )
AMMAN - Protesters loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad briefly broke into the US embassy in Damascus on Monday and security guards used live ammunition to prevent them storming the French embassy, diplomats said.
No casualties were reported in the attacks but a US official said Washington condemned Syria's slow response and its failure to the prevent the assault on its embassy.
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The attacks followed a visit by the US and French ambassadors to the city of Hama last week in support of the hundreds of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators who have been gathering there despite attacks by Syrian forces.
"We are calling in the Syrian charge [d'affaires] to complain," said the US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
"We feel they failed [in their responsibility to protect US diplomats]. We are going to condemn their slow response."
Human rights groups say at least 1,400 civilians have been killed since an uprising began in March against Assad's autocratic rule, posing the biggest threat to his leadership since he succeeded his father 11 years ago.
In other violence on Monday, Syrian forces killed one civilian and wounded 20 in heavy-machinegun fire on Homs, Syria's third city, and went house-to-house arresting suspected opponents in Hama, human rights activists said.
Despite using force to crush the protests, Assad has also called for talks on reforms. But many opposition figures have refused to attend a two-day conference in the capital, saying it was futile as long as violence continued.
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Click for full Jpost coverage of turmoil in the Middle East
"Dialogue can only work when both parties respect each other and look at each other as equals," said Ayman Abdel-nour, the Gulf-based editor of website. "At the moment, there is no dialogue."
Syrian Vice President Farouq al-Shara told the opening ceremony of the Damascus conference on Sunday that the authorities would open a new page, hinting at allowing political parties, other than the ruling Baath Party, to operate.
The meeting was expected to discuss legislation which would allow a multi-party system and constitutional amendments.
But independent analysts said reform would remain on paper as long as the security apparatus and Assad loyalists continue to operate with impunity against demonstrators.
Hilal Khashan, a Lebanon-based political commentator, said Assad's call for dialogue was not serious and aimed at buying time.
"If the regime was serious about reforms, they would change their security measures. Nobody in their sound mind would expect anything from Damascus as genuine political reform. The regime is buying time," he added.