Assad supporters storm US embassy in Syria
DAMASCUS - An angry mob stormed the US embassy in the Syrian capital on Monday, after Washington's ambassador visited the flashpoint city of Hama, a hub for protests against President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
"Today there was an attack by a mob on the US embassy," a US embassy official said, adding that no embassy personnel were injured although the Syrian authorities were slow in providing additional security measures.
The official said the embassy sustained some physical damage and that the crowd then moved on to the ambassador's residence.
Opposition protests were also staged overnight in several towns against Sunday's opening of a "national dialogue" hailed by the regime but boycotted by the opposition, rights activists said.
Monday's embassy attack comes four days after US Ambassador Robert Ford visited the central city of Hama, 210 kilometres (130 miles) north of Damascus, sparking outrage in the capital.
The embassy official said "no staff were injured" on Monday and were never in "imminent danger," although the "Syrian government was slow to respond with extra security measures that were needed."
"The Syrian government has assured us that it will provide the protection required under the Vienna Convention and we expect it to do so."
He added that a Syrian television channel had "encouraged this violent demonstration," which followed protests at the embassy on Friday and Saturday calling for the ambassador's resignation.
A senior US official on Sunday accused Damascus of orchestrating the protests over Ford's trip to Hama, which the authorities slammed as a "flagrant interference" in Syria's "domestic affairs."
Ford and his French counterpart Eric Chevallier both visited Hama on Thursday amid fears of a bloody crackdown after Friday prayers the next day by Assad's forces, with tanks encircling the city.
France on Sunday summoned Syria's envoy to Paris Lamia Shakkour over damage done to the French embassy in Damascus and a consulate in Aleppo on Saturday after Chevallier's trip to Hama.
Foreign Minister Alain Juppe's cabinet chief called her to the foreign ministry to receive a "vigorous protest", ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said in a statement.
Tensions have been escalating for months between Damascus and Washington over the Syrian government's fierce response to opposition protests that erupted in mid-March, seeking to oust Assad.
Human rights groups say that since the protests broke out, the security forces have killed more than 1,300 civilians and made at least 12,000 arrests.
In overnight protests, some 5,000 people demonstrated in Deir Ezzor in the east, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Monday, adding there were also protests in three districts of Damascus.
The army was also reported to be continuing a search and sweep operation in the Jebel al-Zawiya area of Idlib province in the northwest.
"Soldiers supported by tanks carried out searches in the villages of Kafarhaya, Sarjan and Al-Rami, and arrests were made in Kfar Nubol," the Observatory said.
People were also detained in Hama and in the coastal city of Banias, where the rights group reported five arrests of people "for filming demonstrations."
Shooting was also heard at around dawn in the central city of Homs.
A meeting of the "national dialogue" in the capital was due to take place later on Monday.
Sunday's inaugural session saw some 200 delegates take part, including independent MPs and members of the Baath party, in power since 1963.
Opposition figures boycotted the gathering in protest at the government's continued deadly crackdown on the anti-regime protests.
Meanwhile, the number of Syrian refugees in Turkey fell to around 8,500 as hundreds decided to return home over the weekend, Turkish officials in Ankara said on Monday.
The number of refugees fleeing the government crackdown and entering Turkey peaked at 11,739 at the end of June, when Syrian troops stormed border villages where many displaced people had massed.