Middle East

Syria: Assad supporters attack US and French embassies

Supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have attacked the US and French embassies in Damascus.

The US state department accused Syria of failing to protect the embassy and demanded compensation for the damage. No-one was hurt in the incident.

At the French embassy, guards fired into the air after staff were wounded in a similar attack, officials say.

The incidents come after the US and French ambassadors visited the restive central city of Hama last week.

The separate visits - which both governments said were meant to express solidarity with the anti-government protesters - drew sharp criticism from Damascus.

Pro-government demonstrators have been taking part in protests outside both embassies for the past two days.

The French foreign ministry said three of its employees had been hurt when protesters assaulted the French embassy on Monday.

Security officers fired warning shots "to prevent multiple intrusions into the compound", ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said.

The attack, he added, was in breach of international law.

"It is not with such illegal methods that the authorities in Damascus will turn the attention away from the fundamental problem, which is to stop the repression of the Syrian population," Mr Valero said.

'Dog'

Meanwhile a US embassy official in Damascus told the BBC that the embassy had come under attack by a "mob".

The official said that the Syrian government had given assurances that they would provide adequate protection for the embassy.

But on this occasion, the authorities were slow to respond, he added.

Witnesses told the Associated Press news agency that the protesters had smashed windows and raised a Syrian flag on the compound.

They also wrote anti-US graffiti referring to the ambassador, Robert Ford, as a "dog", the witnesses said.

Mr Ford's residence, which is not part of the embassy compound, was later briefly assaulted, but the building remained secure, officials said.

In a statement, the US state department said: "One of the basic obligations of a government under the Vienna Convention is protection of diplomatic facilities. On this, as in other areas such as protection of human rights, the Syrian government failed.

"We strongly condemn the Syrian government's refusal to protect our embassy, and demand compensation for damages."

The US embassy official told the BBC that the real story in Syria was the fact that the government continued to imprison, torture and kill citizens because they wanted to protest.

Human rights groups say at least 1,400 civilians and 350 security force personnel have been killed since anti-government demonstrations across Syria began in mid-March.

The Syrian government denies targeting civilians, saying it is tackling armed groups.

The incidents coincide with a government-organised dialogue conference in Damascus that many opposition leaders are boycotting.

Live shots were fired outside the French embassy

The meeting is discussing possible political reforms, which the government hope will bring an end to the four-month-old uprising.

As the conference opened on Sunday, Vice-President Farouq al-Shara hinted at allowing political groups other than the ruling Baath Party to operate.

But Syrian opposition figure Michel Kilo dismissed the meeting saying: "I don't know anyone from the opposition to which I belong who is taking part in this dialogue."

Hundreds of thousands of people turned up for an anti-government rally in Hama on Friday - the day Mr Ford travelled there.

On Sunday the Syrian foreign ministry summoned both Mr Ford and his French counterpart, Eric Chevallier, to protest against their visits to the city.

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