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Tuesday, July 12, 2011     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

Assad finally loses State Department's backing

LONDON — For the first time in the four-month revolt, the regime of President Bashar Assad has directed supporters to attack Western embassies.


Hundreds of Assad-aligned fighters stormed the U.S. and French embassies in Damascus in what Western diplomats asserted was an operation directed by the embattled regime. On July 11, the pro-Assad forces smashed windows and scaled the fortified U.S. embassy compound before moving to attack the residence of U.S. ambassador Robert Ford, Middle East Newsline reported.

"We strongly condemn the Syrian government's refusal to protect our embassy, and demand compensation for damages," the U.S. State Department said.

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Hours later, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Assad has lost legitimacy and that his regime should be replaced by a democratic government.

This marked the first time that the administration of President Barack Obama deemed Assad as no longer deserving of power.

"From our perspective, he has lost legitimacy," Ms. Clinton said. "Our goal is to see that the will of the Syrian people for a democratic transformation occurs."

The Assad supporters, whose assault appeared to reflect military training, also attacked the French embassy and were met by armed security guards. The French Foreign Ministry reported that three embassy employees were injured during the battle in which guards fired into the air.

"Protesters tried to enter the embassy, but the security service blocked access to its territory, and the attackers failed to get in," a French ministry spokesman said. "Self-defense measures were taken, but nobody shot at the crowd."

The assault came a day after the Assad regime condemned the governments in Paris and Washington for sending their ambassadors to the northern city of Hama. Hama, the stronghold of the revolt, has been attacked by the military and security forces.

"Hama and the Syrian crisis is not about the U.S. at all," Ford said in a statement. "This is a crisis the Syrian people are in the process of solving. It is a crisis about dignity, human rights, and the rule of law."

Diplomats said Marine Corps guards prevented the Assad supporters from entering the U.S. embassy compound. They said Marines fought with several of the demonstrators before they withdrew.

"We had U.S. Marines around the facility and when they made it clear that they were prepared to defend our facility the mob went back over the walls," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

The attacks on the Western embassies came amid an escalation in protests against the Assad regime. Over the last few days, hundreds of thousands of Syrians called on the president to resign.

Western diplomats said those who attacked the French and U.S. embassies appeared to come from the Alawite militia, Shabiha. They said Shabiha, which has played a major role in the crackdown on the opposition, brought at least four buses full of fighters to Damascus from the Mediterranean coastal city of Tartous.

"Our main concern here is that the Syrian government, rather than dealing with its own internal problems and rather than addressing the grievances of its own people, is seeking to make distractions around our embassy," Ms. Nuland said.


How exactly did Mrs. Clinton become the arbiter of who is legitimate and who is not? Initially, she was in the Nancy Pelosi camp of courting Assad. Did she clear her statement with former Speaker Pelosi?

Sailhardy      1:47 p.m. / Tuesday, July 12, 2011

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