|AL Jazeera Middle East|
The Obama administration says the "wholly unjustified" attack is part of ongoing campaign to intimidate diplomats.
Last Modified: 30 Sep 2011 00:04
"We condemn this unwarranted attack in the strongest possible term. Ambassador Ford and his aides were conducting normal embassy business and this attempt to intimidate our diplomats through violence is wholly unjustified," Clinton said on Thursday.
Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, said the mob was violent and seriously damaged embassy vehicles, but that Ford was unharmed.
"This is clearly part of a campaign to intimidate dipilomats who are bearing witness to brutality of the Assad regime," Carney said.
He added that the US would not recall Ford and urged the senate to "show its support and confirm [Ford] so he can continue his work."
Al Jazeera's Rosiland Jordan reporting from Washington DC said that with a media blackout in Syria, the US government believes it is necessary for their staff to remain in the country.
"It is incumbent upon Robert Ford, the ambassador, and his staff to remain in Damascus, to move around the country, to see what is happening between the government and those who are opposed to the government of Bashar al-Assad," Jordan said.
Robert Ford, an outspoken critic of al-Assad's crackdown was "safely back at the US embassy" following Thursday's attack, Mark Toner, deputy spokesman of the US state department, said.
The diplomats were meeting Hassan Abdul-Azim, a centrist politician who has demanded an end to the crackdown as a condition for any opposition dialogue with al-Assad.
Office staff prevented them from storming in, but Ford was trapped inside for about three hours with up to 100 hostile government supporters outside.
Abdul-Azim said security forces arrived about an hour after the attack began.
"The mob was violent; it tried, unsuccessfully, to attack embassy personnel while they were inside several embassy vehicles, seriously damaging the vehicles in the process," Toner said.
"Syrian security officers finally assisted in securing a path from the ambassador's meeting for him and his aides back to the embassy."
The statement said: "Recent statements from American administration officials ... clearly indicate that the United States is involved in encouraging armed groups to practice violence against the Syrian Arab Army."
Ford has angered Damascus in the past, notably by visiting the flashpoint city of Hama with his French counterpart in July, ignoring a new ban on Western diplomats travelling outside the Damascus area.
Assad supporters assaulted both the French and US embassies soon after the visit, winning cheers from protesters who later faced a tank-led crackdown.
Assault on Rastan
Thursday's diplomatic incident took place as at least 27 people are reported to have been killed during a three-day siege by Syrian forces to recapture the central town of Rastan.
"The city is still under heavy shooting and shelling from the army's heavy weapons amid of news about major defections in the army trying to protect the people," the Local Co-ordination Committees said in a bulletin.
Reuters news agency reported that two of the 27 killed were military deserters and the rest were local residents, as the town came under a tank and helicopter-backed assault.
"Only today more than 40 were injured and ten killed." an activist told Al Jazeera. "The whole city is besieged from all directions."
Seventeen additional deaths were reported in Homs, Avaaz, an international rights and advocacy group, said later on Thursday, citing reports by citizen journalists in the city.
Battles are raging between the Syrian army and defected soldiers, who have formed into what they call the "Khaled Batallion", Avaaz said in a bulletin.
UN split over sanctions
The US and the European Union have imposed sanctions on some Syrian officials, including Assad, because of the security crackdown that has left some 2,700 people, according to the UN.
However, the UN Security Council remains divided over whether to threaten United Nations sanctions against Syria.
The council met again on Thursday behind closed doors to try to bridge divisions on what would be a first UN resolution condemning the government's six month military crackdown and calling for inclusive political talks.
But the Europeans and Russia remained at odds over mentioning the possibility of sanctions against President Bashar Assad's government.
The Europeans insist that if Syria doesn't comply with demands, including an immediate halt to violence and respect for human rights, the council should consider sanctions. But Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said Moscow is totally opposed to even mentioning the possibility of sanctions.
Al Jazeera and agencies