(Updates with U.S. comments starting in third paragraph.)
Sept. 29 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. ambassador to Syria escaped a violent mob of government supporters in Damascus today, a day after Syrian security forces killed at least 17 protesters.
Ambassador Robert Ford, a critic of President Bashar al- Assad, was in the office of opposition lawyer Hasan Abdul-Azim when mob surrounded it, Mahmoud Merhi, head of the Arab Organization for Human Rights, said by phone today. The incident took place as the United Nations Security Council prepared to debate a resolution condemning Syrian violence against protesters.
“A crowd of demonstrators tried to assault Ambassador Ford and embassy colleagues today” as they met with “a well-known Syrian political figure,” State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said. Toner said the mob tried to attack U.S. officials who were inside vehicles, seriously damaging the cars in the process.
“Syrian security officers finally assisted in securing a path” for the ambassador and his aides to return to the embassy, Toner said.
Ford’s car was pelted with rocks, eggs, tomatoes and sticks, a person familiar with the situation said. The four- wheel-drive vehicle had dents and some of its windows were cracked or shattered, the person said.
Security forces killed the protesters yesterday in the central governorate of Homs, the northern province of Idlib and southern area of Daraa, Merhi said.
The Syrian protests are part of the wave of unrest across the Middle East and North Africa that unseated governments in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Assad’s crackdown has left more than 3,600 civilians dead since the unrest began in March, 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, according to Qurabi and Merhi.
There have been reports in the last three days of clashes between security forces and Syrians who have defected to the opposition, Merhi said. Al Arabiya television broadcast video today of army defectors, saying they had attacked and killed agents of the government and freed 27 children and their teacher. Merhi said he could not verify the statements.
Toner said at a Sept. 26 State Department briefing that it was a “natural development” that Syrian opposition groups would start using violence against security forces as an “act of self-preservation.” Responsibility for such violent acts lay with Assad’s government, he said.
Syria’s foreign ministry said Toner’s comments were “irresponsible” and encouraged acts terror and chaos, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported today. “The U.S. is involved in encouraging armed groups to practice violence” against the army, it asserted.
The Security Council is scheduled to meet on Syria at 4 p.m. today in New York to debate the draft resolution, with a vote possible as early as tomorrow.
European nations on the Security Council yesterday gave the panel a third version of their draft resolution, which calls for the council to “consider” sanctions 30 days after adoption of the measure if Syria doesn’t halt the violence. It also urges restraint on “all sides” and greater involvement of the Arab League in a political solution to the crisis.
“While the EU draft resolution does not contain the individual sanctions and arms embargo we have called for, we believe many of its provisions would help ratchet up the pressure on the Syrian regime to put an end to the killing,” Philippe Bolopion, United Nations director at New York-based Human Rights Watch, said in an e-mailed statement.
--With assistance from Indira A.R. Lakshmanan in Washington, Inal Ersan in Dubai and Bill Varner at the United Nations. Editors: Steven Komarow, Bob Drummond
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