x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

UN condemns attacks on French and US embassies in Syria

Rare criticism from the Security Council as Syrian ambassador claims American and French diplomats 'distorted and exaggerated' the facts.

Pro-Assad demonstrators hang a huge Syrian flag at the entrance of the US embassy compound in Damascus as they protest against the US ambassador, Robert Ford, after his visit to the Syrian city of Hama.
Pro-Assad demonstrators hang a huge Syrian flag at the entrance of the US embassy compound in Damascus as they protest against the US ambassador, Robert Ford, after his visit to the Syrian city of Hama.

DAMASCUS AND NEW YORK // International pressure increased against Syria yesterday, with the UN Security Council condemning "in the strongest terms" attacks against the US and French embassies in Damascus.

The 15-nation-body said Syrian authorities must "take all appropriate steps to protect embassy premises". The UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon said Monday's attacks were "totally unacceptable" and violated international norms.

It was a rare criticism from the Security Council, which has refused to condemn Syria since the start of the four-month-old uprising, despite more than 1,400 civilians being killed by security services, according to human rights groups.

Damascus has been at pains to avoid any steps against it from the UN, relying on Russia, China and India to shield it from formal criticism advocated by Europe and the US.

Syria's UN ambassador, Bashar Ja'afari, rejected the council's statement, saying American and French diplomats had "distorted and exaggerated" the facts as part of a "campaign" against Damascus.

The demonstrators were not government supporters, but a youth movement angered by foreign interference, he said. American and French ambassadors visited Hama, a major protest hub, on Friday giving public backing to pro-democracy demonstrators, angering the Syrian authorities.

Mr Ja'afari also accused French embassy guards, who fired three warning shots in the air to disperse protesters, of doing so "in violation of the most fundamental rules of diplomatic etiquette".

Syrian analysts said any pro-government organisation could not vandalise foreign embassies without the cooperation of the authorities.

Britain's UN envoy, Sir Mark Lyall Grant, urged members to go further and support a European-drafted resolution opposing Syria's crackdown on dissent.

"It is regrettable that some council members continue to obstruct even modest council action designed to address the root causes of the unrest in Syria, while the situation deteriorates," he said.

The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, escalated rhetoric against President Bashar Al Assad, saying on Monday that he had "lost legitimacy".

In response, Damascus accused Washington of "flagrant interference" in its internal affairs.

Sana, the state run news agency said the legitimacy of Mr Al Assad's rule was not dependent on the US but was "derived from the will of the Syrian people" which support "their political leadership and ... the radical reforms put into study and dialogue everyday".

Despite daily protests, with hundreds of thousands demanding him to be overthrown, Mr Al Assad continues to enjoy fierce support from large numbers of Syrians, who credit him with providing stability and security, as well as offering political reforms.

Also yesterday, a government-orchestrated national dialogue conference finished after three days. The meeting was boycotted by the opposition, which is refusing to take part in talks while a security crackdown against protesters continues.

Delegates - most of them regime supporters, but with some independents present - issued an 18 point communiqué, which analysts said provided little indication that sweeping reforms were any closer.

Many of the points covered familiar issues, including the need for stability, rejection of foreign interference, and renewed promises to speed up anti-corruption measures, set up a human rights council and release political prisoners.

Other points appeared to acknowledge major problems, with one calling for the "true implementation" of the rule of law. Another demanded "tolerance" and a rejection of aggression "from whatever party".

But there was no insistence on sweeping democratic reforms or the cancellation of Article 8 in the constitution, which guarantees Baath party control of Syria. "Anyone who was hoping for a concrete reform plan and details about how it will be implemented will be very disappointed," said one independent analyst.