Assad supporters storm embassies in protest of Arab League ban on Syria
Thousands of pro-Assad protesters storm Saudi Arabian, French and Turkish consulates in Syria, and the Qatari embassy in Lebanon.
Crowds armed with sticks and knives attacked the Saudi Arabian embassy in Damascus and French and Turkish consulates in the city of Latakia on Saturday after the Arab League suspended Syria, residents said.
They said hundreds of men shouting slogans in support of President Bashar Assad beat a guard and broke into the Saudi embassy in Abu Rummaneh, three blocks away from Assad's offices in one of the most heavily policed areas of the capital.
"We sacrifice our blood and our soul for you, Bashar," the crowd shouted, according to neighborhood residents.
The Saudi Foreign Ministry said in a statement that a group of demonstrators "gathered outside the embassy, threw stones at it, then stormed the building".
The statement, carried by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA), said Syrian security forces "did not take measures to stop them ransacking the embassy", adding that the demonstrators stayed inside for a while before they were ordered out by Syrian security.
"The kingdom of Saudi Arabia strongly condemns this incident and holds Syrian authorities responsible for the security and protection of Saudi interests and citizens in Syria".
Saudi Arabia withdrew its ambassador from Damascus in August, when King Abdullah demanded an end to the crackdown.
Similar attacks took place in Latakia, 330 kms north of Damascus on the Mediterranean coast, where French and Turkish consulates were the targets of angry crowds, residents said.
A French Foreign Ministry spokesman said France had only an honorary consulate in Latakia and he was unaware of it having been attacked. He quoted the French ambassador to Syria as saying late on Saturday that he was unaware of any attacks on French diplomatic or other interests in Syria.
The attacks took place hours after the Arab League suspended Syria for failing to carry out a promise to halt its armed crackdown on eight-month-old pro-democracy demonstrations and open a dialogue with its opponents.
A senior diplomat in Damascus confirmed the attacks. "They did a fair bit of damage to the Saudi embassy. We do not have the full picture from Latakia, but the attacks there appear to have been really bad," the diplomat said.
In Beirut, protesters gathered in front the Qatari embassy and chanted against the decision. Some of the protesters forced their way to the top of the building, where the embassy is located, and removed the Qatari flag and put up a Syrian one, witnesses said.
Qatar and Saudi Arabia were among the states to vote with the decision made by the 22-member organization, while Lebanon and Yemen voted against it and Iraq abstained.
"In view of the Syrian government's failure to fully and immediately implement the Arab plan, we found ourselves forced to take this decision," Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim, who heads the ministerial committee on Syria, said.
U.S. President Barack Obama applauded the decision, saying in a statement it exposed "the increasing diplomatic isolation of a regime that has systematically violated human rights and repressed peaceful protests."
Bin Jassim said the League "calls for the Arab countries to recall its ambassadors from Syria." He threatened unspecified economic and political sanctions by the Arab countries against Syria.
Bin Jassim, who is Qatar's foreign minister, added that the suspension would first take effect on Wednesday, to allow Damascus time to comply with the deal announced on November 2.
"We were keen that most of the Arab states approve the decision, and there was almost a consensus on it," he told a press conference.
Bin Jassim was speaking following an emergency meeting of the Arab foreign ministers on Syria in Cairo.
Meanwhile, the head of the Arab League, Nabil al-Arabi, said that the decision "is not interference in the country's internal affairs, no matter what the Syrian government said."
The Qatari official said Syrian opposition groups would be invited for a meeting at the Arab League in the next three days.
"We are keen not to internationalize the Syrian crisis. We want it be solved by the Arabs," he added.
Bin Jassim said that the Arab foreign ministers would meet again on Wednesday to assess the situation in Syria.
Shortly after the announcement, the Syrian delegate to the Arab League, Yusuf Ahmed, called the resolutions illegal and a violation of the organization's charter.
The Arab plan, accepted by Damascus on November 2, commits Syria to withdrawing military forces from civilian areas, releasing political detainees and initiating talks with opposition.
Months of efforts to levy United Nations sanctions against Syria have been blocked by China and Russia.
The Syrian opposition, which welcomed the Arab League's decision, called late Saturday on the people "to escalate the revolution" in order to speed the ouster of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
"We need to escalate the revolution in order to get rid" of Assad's regime "as soon as possible," the Head of the Syrian National Council (SNC) Burhan Ghalioun told Lebanese Future television.
Opposition activists said 13 people had died in clashes on Saturday, including nine security officers.
Most of the deaths were in the restive city of Homs and the province of Edleb, the head of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human rights, Rami Abdel Rahman told DPA.
"At least nine security officers were killed when their bus was ambushed by gunmen believed to be defectors as they were traveling from Maaret al-Naamaan to Khan Sheikhun" in Edleb, Abdel Rahman said.
More than 3,500 people have been killed in Syria since pro-democracy protests began in mid-March.