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US accuses Syria of orchestrating embassy demonstrations

A senior US official denied Sunday that the US envoy to Syria had been summoned by Syria's foreign office and accused Damascus of orchestrating violent protests over the weekend at the US embassy.

The official described violent protests outside the US embassy in Damascus that only ended on Saturday after security staff reached out to the Syrian authorities and asked them to send extra personnel.

"The Syrian government chose to protest Ambassador Ford's trip to Hama last week by organizing an angry protest outside the US embassy in Damascus," the official said.

"The protest lasted 31 hours across Friday and Saturday with protesters calling for the ambassador to leave. Protesters eventually threw tomatoes, eggs, and later glass and rocks at the embassy. Two embassy employees were struck by food."

Tensions have been escalating for months between Damascus and Washington over the Syrian government's crackdown on months of opposition protests seeking to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

US ambassador Robert Ford and French counterpart Eric Chevallier visited the flashpoint Syrian city of Hama on Thursday amid fears of a bloody protest crackdown by Assad's forces, with tanks encircling the city.

Syrian state news agency SANA said both envoys had been summoned on Sunday to the Syrian foreign ministry to protest their trip, which it described as "flagrant interference in Syria's domestic affairs."

But a senior US State Department official said ambassador Ford had actually gone to the foreign ministry on Sunday to attend a previously scheduled meeting requested by the Americans.                                                                                                                                                                                                           

"Ambassador Ford was not summoned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs," the official said, adding that Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Mouallem did however file an official complaint about the Hama visit during their meeting.

-AFP/NOW Lebanon

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