Protesters attack British

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Protesters attack British


THOUSANDS OF stone-throwing demonstrators attacked the American embassy and a British cultural centre in Damascus yesterday in protest against Anglo-American air strikes on Iraq.

Diplomats said the demonstration, made up mainly of schoolchildren and university students, was the first in support of the Iraqi people in the Syrian capital in about 20 years.

US guards inside the compound fired tear gas, and Syrian security forces tried to prevent demonstrators from storming the embassy, but protesters succeeded in scaling the embassy wall. They ripped down and burned a US flag while chanting "All of us support you, our brothers in Iraq" and "Aggression against Iraq is an aggression against Syria".

The demonstrators also smashed notice boards on the embassy gates before heading to the nearby residence of the US ambassador, where they ripped up books and damaged his car. Crowds also stoned the British embassy and stormed the British Council offices, smashing furniture and scattering books before dispersing. There were no reports of serious injuries or arrests.

Although the demonstration was not organised by the government, Syria has strongly condemned the US and British air attacks on Baghdad. Ruled by rival factions of the Baath party, Syria and Iraq have long been in competition for leadership of the Arab world. However, they have drawn closer in recent years over what they say is American hostility and Israel's unwillingness to hand back occupied Arab land.

President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt also appealed to the US and Britain to halt attacks on Iraq, and demonstrations supporting Baghdad were held across the Arab world. In Hebron, in the West Bank, some 3,000 Palestinians defied a ban from their leadership on pro-Iraq demonstrations. Clashes later with Israeli troops left more than 80 injured. Palestinian police did not attempt to restrain the marchers.

In Egypt, 4,000 students burned American and Israeli flags at Banha University, north of Cairo, as did 200 students at Cairo's Ain Shams University. In the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, some students threw Molotov cocktails at the closed US embassy during a protest by about 2,000 people.