Assad loyalists storm U.S. and French embassies in Syria

Mon Jul 11, 2011 2:40pm EDT
 
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By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

AMMAN (Reuters) - Several loyalists of President Bashar al-Assad broke into the U.S. embassy in Damascus on Monday and security guards used live ammunition to prevent hundreds from storming the French embassy, diplomats said.

They said the attackers tore down U.S. embassy plaques and tried to break security glass in protests fueled by the government against a visit by U.S. and French ambassadors to the city of Hama, focus of demonstrations against Assad's rule.

"Four buses full of shabbiha (Alawite militia loyal to Assad) came from Tartous. They used a battering ram to try to break into the main door," a resident of Afif, the old district where the U.S. embassy is located told Reuters by telephone.

A Western diplomat in the Syrian capital said: "This is a violent escalation by the regime. You do not bring bus loads of thugs into central Damascus from the coast without its consent."

A French foreign ministry official said the Syrian authorities had done nothing to stop the assault on its embassy.

"(France) reminds (Syria) that 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 and to launch democratic reform," said foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero.

France has led Western attempts to pass a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Syria's hierarchy for cracking down on protesters. It says the president has lost legitimacy because of the number of killings to try to quell the protests demanding political freedoms after 41 years of Assad family rule.

The United States condemned Syria for "refusing" to protect the embassy from an assault it said had been encouraged by a pro-government television station.   Continued...