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Assad supporters attack U.S. ambassador

BEIRUT -- Angry supporters of President Bashar Assad's regime hurled tomatoes and eggs at the U.S. ambassador to Syria yesterday as he entered the office of a leading opposition figure. They 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 a continuing, orchestrated campaign to intimidate American diplomats in the country. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton condemned the attack as "wholly unjustified."

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 and was briefly detained by authorities earlier this year.

Such incidents are usually not spontaneous in Syria, and yesterday's attack came amid high tension between the two nations, as well as accusations by Damascus that Washington is inciting violence in the country.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Ford and his colleagues were unharmed and are now safe. Several heavily armored embassy vehicles sent to help extricate them from the situation had broken windows and dents when the crowd hurled rocks, White House and State Department officials said.

"This inexcusable assault is clearly part of an ongoing campaign of intimidation aimed at diplomats . . . who are raising questions about what is going on inside Syria," Clinton said. "It reflects an intolerance on the part of the regime and its supporters."

White House spokesman Jay Carney called the attack "unwarranted and unjustifiable," but said the United States had no plans to recall Ford from Damascus.

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