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Syrian government loyalists storm US, French embassies

Supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have stormed the U.S. and French embassies in Damascus, smashing windows and raising a Syrian flag in the U.S. compound.

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Pro-government protesters gather outside the French Embassy in Damascus, Syria on July 11, 2011. (Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images)

Supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have stormed the U.S. and French embassies in Damascus. Attackers smashed windows and raised a Syrian flag at the US compound on Monday. Earlier, guards outside the French embassy used tear gas and fired into the air to disperse protesters loyal to Assad.

The US state department has said it will summon a senior Syrian diplomat on Monday. The Obama administration will formally protest and may demand compensation for damage caused by the attack, a U.S. official told Al-Jazeera.

There were no reports of any casualties. At the U.S. compound, the attackers wrote graffiti describing the US ambassador Robert Ford as a dog. The residence of the US ambassador was attacked soon afterwards.

At the French embassy, three protesters were injured when embassy guards beat them with clubs, a witness told Al-Jazeera.

The attacks came days after the U.S. and French ambassadors to Syria visited the town of Hama in central Syria, where a large anti-government protest was held on Friday.

Both governments said their visits were to show solidarity with the Syrian opposition. Assad’s government has accused Washington of inciting violence in Syria. Pro-government demonstrators have been taking part in protests outside both embassies for the past two days.

Al-Jazeera reports that the U.S. government has accused Damascus of using the embassy attacks as a diversion from anti-government protests. Ford criticized Syria on Sunday for allowing rallies held by Assad’s supporters while cracking down on anti-government demonstrators.

The Syrian government had given assurances that they would provide adequate protection for the embassy, but they were slow to respond to Monday’s unrest, a US embassy official told the BBC.

Security in Syria is so tight that protesters would not have been able to get so close to the embassies without approval from the government, according to Al-Jazeera’s reporter in Damascus.

The incidents coincide with a government-organised conference in Damascus designed to discuss political reforms. Some independent politicians are attending the dialogue, but many opposition members are boycotting it.

Rights groups say at least 1,400 civilians and 350 security force personnel have been killed since anti-government demonstrations across Syria began in mid-March.