U.S. Condemns Torching of Embassies in Syria

The White House said Saturday it will hold Syria responsible for the burning of Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus, saying such violence does not occur there without the host government's approval.

In a statement released at President Bush's ranch in central Texas, the United States strongly condemned the fires at the two embassies in the Syrian capital, which also damaged the Chilean and Swedish embassies. The condemnation is the latest chapter in declining U.S.-Syrian relations.

"We will hold Syria responsible for such violent demonstrations since they do not take place in that country without government knowledge and support," said presidential press secretary Scott McClellan.

Thousands of Syrians enraged by caricatures of Islam's revered prophet torched the embassies on Saturday — the most violent in days of furious protests by Muslims in Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

The State Department has told the Syrian ambassador that Syria must act decisively to protect all foreign embassies and citizens in Damascus from attack.

"The government of Syria's failure to provide protection to diplomatic premises, in the face of warnings that violence was planned, is inexcusable," McClellan said.

The demonstrations were incited by a dozen caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad first published in Denmark's Jyllands-Posten in September and reprinted in European media in the past week.

One depicted the prophet wearing a turban shaped as a bomb with a burning fuse. Islamic law is interpreted to forbid any depictions of the Prophet Muhammad.

The demonstrations have been fueled in part by Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen's firm stance in refusing to apologize for his country's free press. The United States stood with Rasmussen.

"We commend Danish Prime Minster Rasmussen's responsible statements in recent days urging tolerance and respect for all faiths and for freedom of the press," McClellan said. "We stand in solidarity with Denmark and our European allies in opposition to the outrageous acts in Syria today."

The United States has long accused Syria of allowing foreign fighters to use its territory to move across a porous border into Iraq.

Last month, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice issued a new threat to haul a defiant Syria before the U.N. Security Council if Damascus does not cooperate with an investigation into a political assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The U.N. probe into Hariri's killing has already implicated Syria, but Damascus has denied the allegations.

Hariri, who wanted to wiggle Lebanon free from Syrian control, was assassinated in a truck bombing Feb. 14, 2005 in Beirut. The blast, which killed 20 other people, set off demonstrations that forced withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon after nearly three decades.

The United States has not accused Syria outright of ordering Hariri's killing, although it has come close. Washington pulled its ambassador from Damascus shortly after the killing and has since steadily increased pressure on the government of Bashar Assad.