State Department Read “Riot Act” to Syrian Envoy Over Attack

Syria’s ambassador to the U.S. was summoned to the State Department last night and read the “riot act” over the attack earlier in the day in Damascus on the U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford.

Syrian Ambassador Imad Moustapha was “read the riot act about this incident” by Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters in Washington today.

“He was reminded that Ambassador Ford is the personal representative of the president and that an attack on Ford is an attack on the United States,” Nuland said. She said the Syrian government’s failure to prevent the harassment of Ford by a “Syrian rent-a-mob” was “incomprehensible.”

Syrian security forces today killed at least 18 anti-government protesters and carried out wide-scale arrests as demonstrators took to the streets after Friday prayers to demand that President Bashar al-Assad step down.

The killings occurred in Hama, Homs and in the suburbs of Damascus, and hundreds of demonstrators were arrested throughout the country today, Mahmoud Merhi, head of the Arab Organization for Human Rights, said by phone today. Gunfire was heard in the capital’s suburbs of Harasta, Douma and Barzeh, and some protesters were wounded, he said.

Security Checkpoints

Security forces set up checkpoints and conducted searches starting late yesterday at the entrances of the three Damascus suburbs in anticipation of rallies, Merhi said. Thousands of people have regularly staged demonstrations after Friday prayers since the uprising started in March.

The Syrian protests are part of the wave of unrest across the Middle East and North Africa that has unseated governments in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

Assad’s crackdown has left more than 3,600 civilians dead, according to Ammar Qurabi of the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria. About 30,000 people have been detained and 13,000 are still being held, Qurabi and Merhi said. About 700 members of the state security forces have been killed in the uprising, according to the government.

Government forces killed at least 14 protesters yesterday in the central towns of Rastan and Talbiseh near the governorate of Homs and the northern province of Idlib, Merhi said. There were reports of clashes between security forces and army defectors in Rastan, he said.

Army Defectors

“There are elements that have split from the army and they have taken it upon themselves to protect those demonstrating,” former judge and human-rights activist Haitham al-Maleh said today in an interview with Al-Arabiya television. “The regime’s strategy is to extract all the youth from the streets, however the revolution is continuing.”

European nations on the United Nations Security Council yesterday circulated a fourth version of their draft resolution in a continuing bid to win Russia’s support. It deletes the word “sanctions,” instead threatening to adopt “targeted measures” in the event that Syria’s government doesn’t halt attacks on protesters. The text also drops a reference to possible referral of alleged crimes to the International Criminal Court and adds a line that “urges all sides to reject violence and extremism.”

Russia opposes any mention of sanctions, UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters yesterday.

Attack on Ambassador

Ford, who has been a critic of Assad, escaped a violent mob of government supporters yesterday while visiting opposition lawyer Hasan Abdul-Azim at his office in Damascus.

Ford’s car was pelted with rocks, eggs, tomatoes and sticks.

“Protesters threw concrete blocks at the windows and hit the cars with iron bars,” Ford wrote on the embassy’s Facebook page today. “One person jumped on the hood of the car, tried to kick in the windshield and then jumped on the roof.”

“The mob also tried to break through Abdul-Azim’s office door,” he wrote. “Is that peaceful? I’d call it intolerant if not worse.”

The U.S.government finds it“incomprehensible that Syrian security authorities are somehow able to arrive on the scene of peaceful opportunity demonstrations in Damascus in a matter of minutes, and yet it took them almost two hours to come to the aid of Ambassador Ford,” Nuland said today.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday condemned the attack on Ford in the “strongest terms.”

“This attempt to intimidate our diplomats through violence is wholly unjustified,” Clinton said in remarks to reporters in Washington. The U.S. is “demanding” that Syria “take every possible step to protect our diplomats according to their obligations under international law,” she said.

The latest European draft resolution at the UN contains a newly added paragraph that “strongly condemns attacks on diplomatic personnel.”

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