Ford visits opposition leader in capital
BEIRUT – 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 in Damascus, saying it was part of an ongoing, orchestrated campaign to intimidate American diplomats in the country.
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 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.
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 U.S. Embassy workers in Damascus. Spokesman Mark Toner said Ford and his colleagues were unharmed.
However, several heavily armored embassy vehicles sent to help extricate them from the situation were badly damaged with broken windows and dents when the same crowd hurled rocks.
White House spokesman Jay Carney called the attack “unwarranted and unjustifiable,” but said the U.S. had no plans to recall Ford from Damascus.
Trying to keep a low profile, Ford and his colleagues had parked about a block away from Abdul-Azim’s office and walked to the building, where they were confronted by the crowd, according to Toner.
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. Ford called the U.S. Embassy for help and alerted Syrian authorities to the situation, but Syrian security forces did not show up for more than an hour.