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Syria Condemns Clinton Remarks

A Syrian policeman walks in front of the damaged U.S. Embassy compound on July 11 after pro-government protesters stormed the facilities in Damascus.
Syria has strongly condemned a statement by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, calling the remarks an "act of incitement."

In a statement on July 11, Clinton said Bashar al-Assad has lost legitimacy and is "not indispensable", in a sharp escalation of U.S rhetoric against the Syrian leader.

Clinton said Washington did not believe Assad would keep his word on promised reforms in the face of rising protests against his rule.

Clinton also condemned attacks earlier in the day by Assad loyalists on the U.S. and French embassies in Damascus.

Dozens of loyalists of President Bashar al-Assad breached the wall of the American Embassy and threw rocks, eggs, and tomatoes before being chased off by U.S. Marines.

In a statement, the State Department condemned Syria for "refusing" to protect the embassy.

Witnesses said the protesters smashed windows at the embassy and raised a Syrian flag on the compound. They also wrote anti-American graffiti that referred to the U.S. ambassador as a "dog," witnesses said.

The crowd also targeted the French Embassy, where guards fired live ammunition into the air to deter the attackers, who shouted protests at both countries' ambassadors.

On July 8, U.S. Ambassador Richard Ford and his French counterpart, Eric Chevallier, visited the city of Hama, which has become the epicenter of nationwide protests against the regime.

"Today, we [had] thugs going over the walls," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said to describe the attack on the American compound. "They did not breach the chancery, but they were able to get up on the roof. There were some windows broken and other damage, and then they went on to the ambassador's residence and there were similar incidents there. They were chased off by the U.S. Marines, as I understand."

She said the attackers had been encouraged by a "television station that is heavily influenced by Syrian authorities" and said the United States is demanding that Damascus protect its foreign diplomatic corps.

International Obligations

"We consider that the Syrian government has not lived up to its obligations under the Vienna Convention to protect diplomatic facilities, and it's absolutely outrageous," Nuland said.

Washington said it has demanded compensation from the Syrian government for the damage caused. There were no casualties in the attacks.

A Western diplomat in the city told Reuters that the attackers were bused in from Tartus, a seaport city 260 kilometers from Damascus.

A resident of Damascus who lives near the U.S. Embassy also told the news agency that "Four buses full of shabbiha" -- Alawite militia loyal to Assad -- "came from Tartus. They used a battering ram to try to break into the main door."

A member of the French Foreign Ministry said Syrian authorities had done nothing to stop the assault on its embassy.

France has been leading a push at the United Nations Security Council to pass a resolution condemning the autocratic Assad regime for its brutal crackdown on protesters who have been demanding political reforms and more freedom since March.

Human rights groups say at least 1,500 civilians have been killed since the uprising began and which now sees thousands of Syrians turning out regularly across the country to call for Assad to leave power.

More Bloodshed

Even as he continues to use deadly force to try and crush the protests, Assad has called for talks on reforms. But members of the opposition refused to attend a two-day conference in the capital last week, saying it was futile as long as violence continued.

Prominent Syrian dissident and former judge Haitham al-Maleh told a July 11 press conference in Istanbul that he believes "most Syrians also believe that the fall of the regime is an absolute necessity." He added, "There is no longer room for discussion on this."

He went on to say: "Any regime that uses weapons against its own people is considered an expired regime. This regime is confronting its citizens with military tanks. In Syria there are 3,000 tanks that are directing their arms towards the people. They are breaking into homes and bombing civilians. The country is fighting its own citizens, instead of directing its weapons toward the [Israeli-occupied] Golan Heights to retain them, it is directing them at the people. Such a country is not legitimate and the regime is considered over."

The state-sponsored violence continued throughout the day on July 11 as government forces killed one civilian and wounded 20 others with heavy-machine gun fire in Hama. Rights activists said government forces went house-to-house arresting suspected opponents of the regime.

AP reported that U.S. Ambassador Ford's arrival in Hama on July 7 was greeted by friendly crowds who put flowers on his windshield and olive branches on his car while chanting, "Down with the regime!"

The State Department said Ford made the trip to express support for the right of the Syrian people to demonstrate peacefully.

The Obama administration has criticized Assad's government for its violent crackdown on peaceful protests against his 11-year rule, but has not called for him to leave power, as it did with Egypt's Hosni Mubarak and has done with Libya's Muammar Qaddafi.

written by Heather Maher based on RFE/RL and agency reports

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