The Obama administration will formally protest Monday’s attack on the American embassy in Syria and may seek compensation for damage caused when a mob breached the wall of the compound before being dispersed by U.S. Marine guard.
A U.S. official said the State Department would summon a senior Syrian diplomat to condemn the assault on the embassy and demand that Syria uphold international treaty obligations to protect foreign diplomatic missions. The official said Syrian security forces who are supposed to guard the mission were slow to respond to the attack by supporters of President Bashar Assad, which was allegedly incited by government affiliated media.
Because the Marine guard contingent at the embassy reacted quickly, the attackers were not able to break into any buildings on the compound and there were no injuries reported to embassy personnel, who are all accounted for, the official said. But the official said the attackers did damage the chancery building. The damage is still being assessed, the official said.
Witnesses said the protesters smashed windows and raised a Syrian flag on the compound. They also wrote anti-US graffiti referring to the U.S. ambassador as a “dog,” the witnesses said. The protests were over visits by the U.S. and French ambassadors last week to the opposition stronghold of Hama in central Syria.
On Sunday, the State Department complained that pro-government demonstrators threw tomatoes, eggs and rocks at the embassy over the weekend to protest Ambassador Robert Ford’s visit to Hama. There were no reports of injuries, but a senior department official said two embassy employees were pelted with food during the 31-hour demonstration.
Ford on Thursday visited Hama where he was greeted by friendly crowds who put flowers on his windshield and olive branches on his car, chanting, “Down with the regime!” The State Department said Ford made the trip to express support for the right of Syrian people to demonstrate peacefully.
The Syrian government denounced Ford’s visit, saying the unauthorized trip was proof that Washington was inciting violence in the Arab nation. The main headline of state-run daily Al-Thawra read, “Ford in Hama and Syrians are angry.”
The Obama administration has criticized Assad’s government for its violent crackdown on peaceful protests against his 11-year rule. Clashes between protesters and Assad’s supporters have resulted in the deaths of 1,600, in addition to 350 members of the security forces.
But the White House has so far refrained from calling for an end to the Assad family’s four decades of rule, leery of pressing too hard as it tries to wind down wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and faces criticism for being part of the coalition battling Moammar Gadhafi in Libya.
Congressional Republicans have pressed the administration to withdraw Ford from Syria, an ally of Iran that supports the Islamic militant groups Hezbollah in neighboring Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The U.S. did not send an ambassador to Damascus for five years in protest of Syria’s alleged role in the assassination of a political leader in Lebanon.