U.S. envoy Robert Ford target of pro-government Syrian protest

By Matthew Lee

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, July 10 2011 9:00 p.m. MDT

In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA and according to them, thousands of supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad, carry a gigantic 17,500 yards (16,000 meters) Syrian flag during a pro-Assad demostration, in the Mediterranean city of Latakia, northewest of Damascus, syria, on Sunday July 10, 2011. Leading Syrian opposition figures and prominent activists have shunned government-sponsored reform talks, saying they will not participate as long as the regime ruthlessly cracks down on protesters. The regime of the family dynasty of President Bashar Assad is grappling with a four-month-old anti-government uprising, using a mix of violence and promises of reform to quell the nationwide demonstrations. (AP Photo/SANA) EDITORIAL USE ONLY

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The U.S. says pro-government demonstrators in the Syrian capital threw tomatoes, eggs and rocks at the U.S. Embassy to protest Ambassador Robert Ford's visit to the besieged rebel stronghold of Hama.

There were no reports of injuries, but a senior U.S. State Department official said two embassy employees were pelted with food during the 31-hour demonstration. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of sensitivity of the issue.

Ford on Thursday visited the central city of Hama, where he was greeted by friendly crowds who put flowers on his windshield and olive branches on his car, chanting, "Down with the regime!" The State Department said Ford made the trip to express support for the right of Syrian people to demonstrate peacefully.

The Syrian government denounced Ford's visit, saying the unauthorized trip was proof that Washington was inciting violence in the Arab nation. The main headline of state-run daily Al-Thawra read, "Ford in Hama and Syrians are angry."

According to the U.S. official, supporters of President Bashar Assad's government organized a raucous demonstration outside the embassy in Damascus that began Friday and continued until Saturday evening.

The official said the demonstration broke up only after an embassy security officer appealed to Syrian contacts, who sent additional forces to quell the protests.

The Obama administration has criticized Assad's government for its violent crackdown on peaceful protests against his 11-year rule. Clashes between protestors and Assad's supporters have resulted in the deaths of 1,600, in addition to 350 members of the security forces.

But the White House has so far refrained from calling for an end to the Assad family's four decades of rule, leery of pressing too hard as it tries to wind down wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and faces criticism for being part of the coalition battling Moammar Gadhafi in Libya.

Congressional Republicans have pressed the administration to withdraw Ford from Syria, an ally of Iran that supports the Islamic militant groups Hezbollah in neighboring Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The U.S. did not send an ambassador to Damascus for five years in protest of Syria's alleged role in the assassination of a political leader in Lebanon.

The U.S. official said Ford registered his "displeasure" with the protests during a meeting Sunday with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem, who pledged to protect the embassy.

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