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Assad loyalists attack French and US embassies

Supporters of Syrian President Bashar al Assad stormed the French and US embassies in Damascus on Monday, in response to a visit by the countries’ ambassadors to an opposition stronghold last week. Three French embassy workers have been injured.

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Supporters of Syrian President Bashar al Assad stormed the French and US embassies in Damascus on Monday, injuring three French embassy staff members.

The protests came in response to visits by the US and French ambassadors on Friday to the southwestern city of Hama, an opposition stronghold, in a show of support for pro-democracy demonstrators who have been taking to the streets despite a military crackdown.

The US ambassador, Robert Ford, has slammed the Syrian government’s response to the protests, which have resulted in the deaths of some 1,600 civilians and 350 security officers, according to estimates by activists. He has accused Syrian authorities of tolerating pro-regime street protests, while cracking down brutally on anti-Assad demonstrators. In a post on the embassy’s Facebook page, Ford denounced the “security thugs [beating] down olive branch-carrying peaceful protesters”.

Witnesses of the attack on the US embassy said the protesters smashed windows, raised a Syrian flag, and scrawled anti-American graffiti calling the US ambassador a “dog”. It is not yet known whether there were casualties at the protest.

Meanwhile, guards at the French embassy fired live ammunition into the air to disperse the protesters surrounding the embassy. According to witness accounts, protesters smashed embassy windows, destroyed the windshield of a diplomat’s car parked outside the compound, and knocked down a French flag to replace it with a Syrian one. They also reportedly left graffiti outside the embassy that read: “The nation that gave birth to Bashar Assad will not kneel.”

The French foreign ministry said that the protesters did not manage to enter the building. According to witness accounts, guards beat some of the protesters with clubs.

According to a US official who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity, no embassy staff were injured in the incident, but Washington will formally protest the attack on the embassy and could seek compensation for damages caused. The US State Department will also call in a senior Syrian diplomat on Monday and renew calls for Syria to protect foreign diplomats, the official said.

Syrian authorities have said that the US and French ambassadors’ visits to Hama amounted to meddling in Syria’s domestic affairs and a deliberate effort to undermine the government’s stability. They hold “armed gangs” and Islamic extremists responsible for the unrest.

 

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