Monday, July 11, after a pro-Assad mob invaded the US embassy in Damascus, a personal attack on Syrian President Bashar Assad was heard in Washington for the first time since he launched his brutal crackdown on opposition in March. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Assad "is not indispensible and we have absolutely nothing invested in him remaining in power."

US embassy staff sheltered in a fortified wing of the mission as pro-Assad militiamen wrecked the mission's equipment raised the Syrian flag and smeared offensive graffiti on the walls while Syrian security forces stood by and did nothing.

DEBKAfile reported earlier: The bottom finally dropped out of Obama administration's policy of granting Syrian President Bashar apparently unlimited leeway, despite his savagery against civilian opponents, when a pro-Assad mob broke into the US embassy compound in Damascus which also houses the ambassador's residence. The intruders were still there by nightfall.

DEBKAfile's intelligence sources report that the ambassador, a small number of personnel on duty and the US Marines guarding the building took shelter in a fortified wing of the building behind concrete walls and steel doors. They used a special video link to stay in touch with the situation room of the State Department in Washington.

These small fortress wings are built into US embassy facilities. They are proof against rockets, explosives, aerial attack and terrorists carrying out raids through underground passages. Enough water, food, and medical aid supplies are stocked there to sustain their occupants for a week or more until rescued.

The last time US embassy staff were forced to take shelter in one of these quarters was six years ago. On December 2004, al Qaeda seized the US consulate building in Jedda and killed five non-US employees but failed to break into the fortified room holding the American staf.

Five years ago, the American embassy in Damascus itself was attacked for the first time. On Sept. 13, 2006, al Qaeda detonated a bomb car outside the building as a gang of armed men tried to break in. Then, they failed to gain entry. This Monday was the first time a large number of intruders has ever managed to storm an American embassy and ambassadorial residential compound in the Middle East.

The invaders clambered over the walls, hung Syrian flags atop the buildings and scrawled graffiti calling the US ambassador "a dog" for visiting Hama protesters with the French ambassador last Thursday.

In Washington, the US State Department summoned the senior Syrian diplomat for a severe dressing-down on the Syrian government's "failure to provide adequate protection for the facility."  Syrian forces supposed to guard the mission were accused of "being slow to respond to an attack by supporters of President Assad, an attack incited by a television station heavily influenced by Syrian authorities."

A second mob stormed the French embassy in Damascus, hauled down the French flag and replaced it with Syrian flags. Here, too, Syrian security men watched and did nothing.
DEBKAfile's military and intelligence sources report the presumption in Washington and shared in Paris, Ankara, Jerusalem and Beirut, that  the US and French embassies were targeted as a means of warning the West to keep its hands off the Assad regime and stop warning him to abandon his brutal methods of suppressing dissent.

It may be just the first step; Assad's friends - Iran, Hizballah and Hamas – may pitch in later with violent acts against the US and its allies. US forces in neighboring Iraq and the rest of eastern Mediterranean are again on high alert, as are Syria's neighbors – Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Israel.

Up until last Tuesday, July 5, Washing and Paris believed  Assad regime had come around to agreeing to bring the uprising to an end by initiating national dialogue with opposition leaders on political reforms and power-sharing with opposition parties. 

Assad appeared to be playing along with the process, suggesting to Washington and Paris that he was finally willing to lend an ear to voices of moderation in the Syrian elite, forswear such repressive methods as live fire against protesters and meet them halfway for a compromise settlement.

Assad dashed this hope Wednesday, July 6 by breaking off contact with the opposition leaders close to Washington and Paris and by suddenly ordering the select group of British and French correspondents allowed briefly to report from Damascus to pack their bags and leave. The Syrian ruler did not bother to explain his abrupt about-face to Washington and Paris.

Presidents Obama and Sarkozy retaliated by ordering their ambassadors in Damascus, Robert Ford and Eric Chevalier, to visit the center of dissent in Hama last Thursday, July 7, and demonstrate solidarity with the protesters' cause by meeting their leaders.  The Syrian ruler hit back Monday by sending hooligans against their embassies. He was warning them that unless they call off their dogs against him, his next step will be the expulsion of their ambassadors.

Assad chose Monday for his reprisal because that day, the Middle East Quartet was meeting in Washington to discuss steps for reviving Israel-Palestinian peacemaking led by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Also in attendance were UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the foreign ministers of Russia, Britain and France.

The Syrian ruler wanted to impress on them that the Israel-Palestinian dispute was not the most pressing issue in the Middle East today and warn them that much tougher developments awaited the region in other trouble spots.  

And when is the U.S. Ambassador Ford going to be recalled?