Supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad threw stones and tomatoes at U.S. ambassador Robert Ford and other U.S. diplomats who were visiting an opposition figure in Damascus on Thursday, a witness and diplomatic sources said.
“Two embassy cars were damaged. The U.S. delegation is still there and the crowd is surrounding the building,” said the witness.
“They are chanting ‘Abu Hafez (father of Hafez)’,” the witness said, a nickname for Assad.
The witness said the diplomats were visiting Hassan Abdelazim, a centrist politician who has been demanding an end to a crackdown on a six month pro-democracy uprising as a condition for any talks with Assad.
In Washington, State Department officials were not immediately available to comment.
It was the second attack on U.S. diplomats since the pro-democracy uprising erupted in Syria in March. In July, following a visit by Ford to the city of Hama, scene of large demonstrations for political freedoms, Assad supporters attacked the U.S. embassy compound in Damascus.
Ford has infuriated Syria’s rulers by cultivating links with the grassroots protest movement.
Ford was cheered by protesters when he went in July to the city of Hama, which was later stormed by tanks. He also visited a town that has witnessed regular protests in the southern province of Deraa, ignoring a new ban on Western diplomats traveling outside Damascus and its outskirts.
The United States, seeking to convince Assad to scale back an alliance with Iran and backing for militant groups, moved to improve relations with Assad when President Barack Obama took office, sending Ford to Damascus in January to fill a diplomatic vacuum since Washington pulled out its ambassador in 2005.
But ties deteriorated after the uprising broke out and Assad ignored international calls to respond to protester demands that he dismantle the police state and end five decades of autocratic rule.