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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 September 2006, 13:32 GMT 14:32 UK
Syrians foil US embassy bombing
Syrian emergency services at scene of clash
Firefighters and other emergency services were sent to the scene

A bomb attack on the US embassy in Damascus has been foiled by local security forces, Syrian officials say.

Attackers tried to drive two cars at the embassy compound but three men were killed by guards and a fourth was captured, the interior minister said.

One car bomb went off but a second failed, he told Syrian state TV, adding that it was being examined for clues.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Washington appreciated Syria's efforts to protect the embassy.

A member of Syria's security forces was also killed but there are no reports of US casualties.

Security forces have sealed off the Rawda area, which also houses other embassies and security installations.

Damascus has seen sporadic unrest in recent years, including a reported attempt to bomb the Canadian embassy.

There is currently no US ambassador to Damascus and very limited contact between the governments.

'Religious slogans'

"Three terrorists were killed and one was wounded," the Interior Minister, Gen Bassam Abdel Majid, said.

AREA OF EMBASSY ATTACK
Syria map

It was, in his words, a "terrorist operation targeting the US embassy" and involving home-made bombs and automatic weapons.

"One [attacker] was captured, injured, and the investigation may reveal where they came from or their backgrounds," the minister added.

Ayman Abdel-Nour, a Syrian political commentator who was in the area, said the attackers had run "toward the compound shouting religious slogans while firing their automatic rifles".

Grenades were reportedly thrown at the embassy's wall, said by the Associated Press news agency to be about 2.5m (8ft) high.

Witnesses said that after an initial exchange of fire, two of the attackers sought refuge in a nearby building but were pursued and gunned down by security forces.

According to the Syrian state news agency, 14 people were injured including two members of the security forces and a local employee at the embassy.

TV footage from the scene showed pools of blood on the pavement and what appeared to be improvised explosive devices using pipes and gas canisters.

A Chinese diplomat was treated in hospital for minor injuries caused by a stray bullet, the official Chinese news agency Xinhua reported.

He had been standing on the roof of the Chinese embassy, which is situated close to the US compound.

Heightened tension

Ms Rice said Washington "very much" appreciated the Syrians' efforts to secure the embassy.

She added that it was too early to say who was behind the incident.

Syria is an authoritarian state where the security forces exert tight control on the population and the media.

A BBC correspondent in the region says the reported attack comes at a time of heightened tensions between Washington and Damascus, with bitterness in Syria over US support for Israeli military action in Lebanon.

The US accuses Syria of supporting the insurgency in Iraq and not doing enough to prevent weapons going to Hezbollah militants in Lebanon.

In June, four people died when Syrian security forces said they had foiled an attack by Islamist militants near the state-run television studios.

In April 2004, four people were killed in a clash between Syrian police and a team of suspected bombers in the diplomatic quarter of Damascus.

The authorities accused Islamist militants of trying to blow up an explosives-laden car near the Canadian embassy.





SEE ALSO
Syrian security put to the test
12 Sep 06 |  Middle East
Testing times for US-Syria relations
12 Sep 06 |  Middle East
In pictures: Syrian embassy clash
12 Sep 06 |  In Pictures
Country profile: Syria
30 Aug 06 |  Country profiles

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