Syrian regime supporters pelt US envoy with eggs

BEIRUT (AP) — Angry supporters of President Bashar Assad’s regime hurled tomatoes and eggs at the U.S. ambassador to Syria on Thursday as he entered the office of a leading opposition figure and then tried to break into the building, trapping him inside for three hours.

The Obama administration blamed the Syrian government for the attack, saying it was part of an ongoing, orchestrated campaign to intimidate American diplomats in the country. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton condemned the attack as “wholly unjustified.”

Ambassador Robert Ford, an outspoken critic of Assad’s crackdown on the 6-month-old revolt against the regime, has angered Syrian authorities before by showing support for the uprising. The latest incident promises to raise tensions even further.

Ford came under attack by about 100 Assad supporters who hurled rocks at his convoy as he arrived for the meeting with Hassan Abdul-Azim, who heads the outlawed Arab Socialist Democratic Union party. Abdul-Azim is a strong critic of Assad’s regime and was briefly detained by authorities earlier this year.

Such incidents are usually not spontaneous in Syria, and Thursday’s attack came amid high tension between the two nations, as well as accusations by Damascus that Washington is inciting violence in the country.

The protesters were ready with eggs and tomatoes when the delegation arrived and threw them at the Americans as they entered the building.

In Washington, the State Department said a rowdy, violent mob tried to attack Ford and several American embassy workers in Damascus. Spokesman Mark Toner said Ford and his colleagues were unharmed and are now safe.

However, several vehicles in the convoy transporting the Americans were seriously damaged by the demonstrators, Toner said. Other department officials said the crowd pelted Ford’s motorcade with rocks as well as eggs and tomatoes.

White House spokesman Jay Carney called the attack “unwarranted and unjustifiable,” but said the U.S. had no plans to recall Ford from Damascus.

Syria’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that as soon as it was contacted by the U.S. Embassy regarding Ford, it called in security authorities, who “took all measures needed to protect the ambassador and his team and secured their return to their work in accordance with Syria’s international commitments.”

Speaking to The Associated Press while Ford was still trapped in his office, Abdul-Azim said: “Now that security forces are here, I believe his life is not in danger.”

Scores of angry Syrians stood outside the building ready to pelt Ford again if stepped outside. Smashed eggs could be seen at the entrance as several policemen guarded the gate.

“We don’t want him anywhere in Syria and if I ever see him I will throw whatever I am carrying at him,” said 21-year-old university student Majd Mutlaq, standing outside Abdul-Azim’s office with a bag of eggs and tomatoes. Mutlaq said he showed up after he heard the ambassador was inside.

Another man who joined the protesters, construction worker Mohammed Tawil, said: “We don’t want the American ambassador here and whoever receives him is an agent.”

Ford has angered the Syrian regime in recent months by traveling to centers of protest outside of Damascus in a show of solidarity with the anti-government uprising. The latest incident could further raise tensions between Washington and Damascus, which has accused the United States of helping incite violence in Syria. In August, President Barack Obama demanded Assad resign, saying he had lost legitimacy as a ruler.

Abdul-Azim said Ford was inside his office when the Assad supporters tried to force their way in, breaking some door locks. Office staff prevented them from rushing in, but the ambassador was trapped inside for about three hours.

Abdul-Azim said Syrian security arrived about an hour after the attack began.

The incident occurred nearly two weeks after Abdul-Azim headed a meeting of more than 200 opposition figures inside Syria that called on Assad to end his deadly crackdown or face an escalation of peaceful protests. The gathering was notable because it took place inside Syria, rather than in a neighboring country, as most others have.

The opposition also said they opposed any foreign intervention in Syria or the use of arms to overthrow the regime.

Abdul-Azim said he reiterated that to Ford. “I told the ambassador we are against any foreign intervention in Syrian affairs,” he said in a telephone interview.

The attack on Ford came five days after government supporters threw eggs and stones at France’s ambassador as he left a meeting in Damascus with a Greek Orthodox patriarch. Ambassador Eric Chevallier was unharmed.

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