REPORTING FROM WASHINGTON -- The American ambassador to Syria and aides were threatened by a "violent" pro-government crowd as he met with an opposition figure in Damascus, U.S. officials said Thursday.
The crowd of about 100 people pelted Ambassador Robert Ford and his aides with eggs and tomatoes as the envoy arrived at the meeting site, official said, and the protesters beat on the doors once the diplomats were safely inside the building.
When U.S. Embassy security personnel arrived to try to protect the diplomats, the crowd attacked their vehicles. Eventually Syrian security forces showed up, and the diplomats were able to return to the embassy without injury, officials said.
In his meeting with opposition politician Hassan Abdul Azim, Ford was only doing "the normal work of any embassy," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement.
The attack was "part of an ongoing campaign to intimidate our diplomats," Toner said, and "an inexcusable assault that reflects intolerance on the part of the regime and its supporters."
The Syrian government has been increasingly angry at the United States as it has sided with demonstrators who have been trying to force the departure of President Bashar Assad since March.
The U.S. and French embassies were attacked in July after Ford and the French ambassador to Syria visited the city of Hama, which has been a center of the opposition.
This latest incident comes after the Syrian Foreign Ministry complained in a statement that the United States was encouraging the armed groups to challenge the Syrian army.
[Updated, 11:45 a.m. Sept. 29: The post was changed to add details about the attack on the ambassador and additional comments by a State Department spokesman.]
-- Paul Richter
Photo: Robert Ford in December 2010. Credit: Jewel Samad / AFP/Getty Images