U.S. Marine Guards repelled a mob of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's supporters after they broke into the American embassy in Damascus on Monday, fueling already-inflamed tensions between the two countries.
Hundreds of protesters broke through security to smash windows and raise a Syrian flag at the compound, with some scrawling anti-American graffiti; among the messages was one calling U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford a “dog,” the Associated Press reports. An embassy official told Reuters the Syrian authorities' response was “slow and insufficient,” though the attackers eventually left the complex. Guards at the French embassy also fired live ammunition on an estimated 300 protesters who tried to break into that compound.
The U.S. and Syria clashed last week when Ford and French Ambassador Eric Chevallier visited the city of Hama to show solidarity with anti-government supporters gathered there. Syria’s state-run news station described the visit as "clear evidence of the American and French intervention in Syria's internal affairs," Reuters reported. And the U.S. on Sunday accused the Syrian government of orchestrating an "angry" protest outside the embassy in Damascus to protest Ford’s visit.
A State Department spokesman said Monday's protest was encouraged by “a television station that is heavily influenced by Syrian authorities." While no staff were injured or in imminent danger during the embassy protests, the nearby Chief of Mission’s residence was also attacked by a mob, the spokesman said via e-mail.
So far, the government has failed to provide adequate protection for diplomatic facilities in the country as stipulated by the Vienna convention, the spokesman said. But the Syrian government has "assured" the U.S. it will provide the required security -- "and we expect it to do so,” the spokesman added. "We strongly condemn the Syrian government's refusal to protect our embassy, and demand compensation for damages."
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallim lodged an official complaint with Ford on Sunday over his visit to Hama. “In the same meeting, Ambassador Ford made clear that Syrian government incitement of Syrians against the United States, including through aggressive protesters in front of the Embassy, must stop,” a senior State Department official said via e-mail. "How ironic that the Syrian Government lets an anti-U.S. demonstration proceed freely while their security thugs beat down olive branch-carrying peaceful protesters elsewhere," Ford said Sunday.
Monday's protests came a day after the Syrian government for the first time opened discussions with opposition groups, most of which boycotted the meeting.