Syrians target US envoy as regime slams Washington

DAMASCUS (AFP) — Angry pro-regime demonstrators tried to attack the US ambassador to Syria on Thursday, as Damascus accused Washington of inciting “armed groups” into violence against its army.

A mob of nearly 100 Syrians tried to storm an office in the capital where the ambassador, Robert Ford, had just arrived to meet opposition figure Hassan Abdelazim, the latter said.

“They were protesting in the street and at the entrance to the building. They tried to break down the door of my office, but didn’t succeed,” Abdelazim told AFP.

“As soon as the ambassador came in at around 11:00 a.m., we heard a noise outside and hostile slogans being chanted. The demonstrators tried to attack the office.”

Ford was holed up inside the office for two hours before security forces arrived and he could return safely to the US embassy, said Abdelazim.

In Washington, State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said “a crowd of demonstrators tried to assault Ambassador Ford and embassy colleagues today as they went” to a meeting with a “well-known Syrian political figure.”

He added that Ford and embassy staff “are now safely back” at the US embassy.

“The mob was violent; it tried, unsuccessfully, to attack embassy personnel while they were inside several embassy vehicles, seriously damaging the vehicles in the process,” Toner said in a statement.

“Syrian security officers finally assisted in securing a path from the ambassador’s meeting for him and his aides back to the embassy,” Toner said.

The incident came as the regime of embattled President Bashar al-Assad accused the United States of inciting “armed groups” into acts of violence targeting its military.

“Comments by American officials, notably Mark Toner, are striking proof that the United States encourages armed groups to commit violence against the Syrian Arab army,” the foreign ministry said.

“The words of the State Department spokesman, describing these terrorist acts as natural, are irresponsible and likely to encourage acts of terrorism and chaos in order to serve foreign goals against the interests of Syrians.

“Syria condemns strongly the US statements and affirms its determination to preserve its security and stability, to defend its citizens and to oppose all attempts to interfere in its internal affairs,” said the statement.

Answering a reporter’s question in Washington on Monday, Toner said it came as no surprise that some arms are being sent to Syria’s opposition.

“Well, look, I think it’s not surprising, given the level of violence over the past months, that we’re now seeing members of the military — or, rather, members of the opposition — begin to turn violent, or, rather, begin to use violence against the military as an act of self-preservation,” Toner said.

“I would say that the opposition’s shown extraordinary restraint in the face of the regime’s brutality and demanding their rights through peaceful unarmed demonstrations,” he added.

“It goes without saying that the longer the regime continues to repress, kill, and jail these peaceful activists, the more likely that this peaceful movement’s going to become violent.”

“So (I) think what you’re saying is, unfortunately, a natural development.”

Angry mobs had stormed the American and French embassies in Damascus on July 11 after the two envoys visited the central city of Hama, a flashpoint for protests against Assad’s regime.

On September 6, Ford strongly criticised Assad’s regime in a statement on Facebook, denouncing in particular justifications for the violent crackdown against demonstrators.

The French envoy, Eric Chevallier, said he was the target of a similar attack on Saturday, when a crowd hurled stones and eggs at him after he met Greek Orthodox Patriarch Ignace IV in Damascus.

Since mid-March, Syria has been shaken by an unprecedented pro-democracy protest movement that the Assad regime has sought to crush using deadly force.

More than 2,700 people have been killed in the unrest, according to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva.

On the political front, prominent dissident Michel Kilo said anti-regime forces inside Syria oppose the Syrian National Council, an opposition body formed in Turkey last month, because it favours foreign intervention.

“If the idea of foreign intervention is accepted, we will head towards a pro-American Syria and not towards a free and sovereign state,” he told AFP.

“A request for foreign intervention would aggravate the problem because Syria would descend into armed violence and confessionalism, while we at home are opposed to that.”

And diplomats in Damascus said Ankara asked Damascus this summer to offer the banned Muslim Brotherhood government posts in exchange for Turkey’s support in ending the unrest, an offer rejected by Assad.

( / 29.09.2011)

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