Most important developments in Middle East region until Sept. 29

Bahrain court hands down sentences against defendants facing charges of coup planning

International condemnation of Israel’s continued construction of settlement units

Libya government formation postponed as fighting rages in Sirte, Bani Walid

Egyptian elections to take place on November 28

Armed clashes flaring in Yemen

International resolution against Syria does not include sanctions, Assad signs decision to form high elections commission

PALESTINIAN NATIONAL AUTHORITY: Israel approved Tuesday the construction of 1,100 homes for Jews on land in the Occupied West Bank, a move that will complicate international efforts to renew peace talks and defuse a crisis over a Palestinian statehood bid at the United Nations.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas applied at the U.N. Friday for full Palestinian membership, a step opposed by Israel and the United States, which urged him to resume peace negotiations.

The so-called Quartet of international mediators – the United States, the European Union, Russia and the U.N. – has called for talks to begin within a month and urged both sides not to take unilateral actions that could block peacemaking.

Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said the new housing units in the West Bank represented “1,100 ‘noes’ to the Quartet statement.”

Abbas has made a cessation of Israeli settlement building a condition for returning to the negotiations, which collapsed a year ago after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to extend a 10-month partial moratorium on construction.

The new homes are to be built in Gilo, an urban settlement that Israel erected on land it captured in the West Bank in the 1967 war.

“Israel is challenging the will of the international community with the continued settlement policy,” Nabil Abu Rdainah, an Abbas spokesman, said about the new project.

Palestinians want to create a state in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital, and say settlements could deny them a viable country. Israel cites historical and Biblical links to the West Bank, which it calls Judea and Samaria.

Israel’s Interior Ministry said a district planning committee approved the Gilo project and public objections to the proposal could be lodged within a 60-day review period, after which construction could begin.

In New York Monday, a divided U.N. Security Council met behind closed doors for its first discussion of last week’s Palestinian application for full U.N. membership as a state.

The move seems certain to fail because of Israeli and American opposition, despite substantial support by other governments. Abu Rdainah said it was up to the Security Council to put a stop to Israel’s settlement policy “which is destroying the two-state solution and putting more obstacles in front of any effort to bring about a resumption of negotiations.”

Speaking on Israeli Army Radio before approval of the Gilo plan was announced, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, said Washington opposed Abbas’ demand for settlement building to stop before peace talks can be held again.

“We’ve never set that, in this administration or any other, as a precondition for talks,” he said. But Shapiro noted the U.S has long opposed Israeli settlement in the West Bank.

Netanyahu indicated Tuesday he was not about to offer a new settlement moratorium to try to coax Abbas back into talks. “We already gave at the office,” he said.

The Palestinians can't resume negotiations with Israel under current conditions and will pursue their bid to win U.N. recognition, a top Palestinian official said Thursday, after President Mahmoud Abbas and senior officials reviewed the latest appeal from Mideast mediators to restart talks and reach a deal within a year.

Last week, Abbas asked the U.N. to grant full membership to a state of Palestine in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war. In a turning point for Palestinian diplomacy, Abbas overrode strong objections by the U.S. which, like Israel, argues that a state must arise from negotiations.

Since returning from the U.N., both Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have tried to avoid being blamed for the deepening impasse.

The Palestinians say they can't be expected to negotiate while Israel keeps expanding settlements, thus pre-empting the outcome of a deal. They say they suspect Netanyahu wants talks as a diplomatic shield, but is not interested in reaching a deal.

Netanyahu alleges the Palestinians are not serious about peace and says he is ready to negotiate at any time. However, the Israeli leader refuses to halt settlement construction or recognize the pre-1967 frontier as a baseline, rejecting internationally backed positions and Palestinian demands.

After the Palestinians' U.N. bid, the Quartet of Mideast mediators - the U.S., the U.N., the European Union and Russia - called for the resumption of talks and a deal within a year. The Quartet statement did not specifically refer to the two Palestinian demands but listed a number of speeches, U.N. resolutions and other documents that contain them.

"Members of the Security Council who want to see the peace process move forward and the early resumption of direct talks between Israel and Palestinians should not be supporting this Palestinian unilateral act," Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev said.

On Thursday, Abbas consulted with officials from the Palestine Liberation Organization and his Fatah movement on what to do next.

Yasser Abd Rabbo, the secretary general of the PLO, said after the meeting that the Quartet statement contained encouraging elements, but that this is not enough to resume negotiations. The Palestinians are eager to restart talks, but Israel first has to commit to all references in the Quartet statement, "especially concerning the borders of 1967 and stopping settlement activity," he said.

Abed Rabbo also said the Palestinians will keep pursuing U.N. recognition. Currently, the 15-member U.N. Security Council is reviewing the issue. The U.S. has already said it would veto the request should the Palestinians muster the required nine votes.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki told reporters Thursday that the Palestinians have secured eight votes so far, and that they are lobbying for more support, including from Bosnia and Colombia.

Despite the certain U.S. veto, the Palestinians are pushing for a majority in the council, in part to show that their statehood bid has international support. Malki told reporters that eight council members - Russia, China, India, South Africa, Brazil, Lebanon, Nigeria and Gabon - are expected to vote for Palestinian membership.

He said Nigeria and Gabon were initially considered undecided, but that senior officials from both countries have assured him of their support. Several others listed by Malki, including China and South Africa, already publicly announced their support for the membership bid.

The Palestinians also retain the option of seeking recognition as a non-member observer state from the General Assembly.

Also Thursday, the Palestinian Economics Ministry said that without Israel's occupation, the Palestinian economy would be almost double in size and entirely independent of foreign aid.

The ministry said losses due to Israeli restrictions amount to nearly $7 billion a year, or 85 percent of the Palestinian nominal gross domestic product. This includes nearly $2 billion in losses due to Israel's blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza, water use restrictions and restrictions on natural resources respectively, said Economics Minister Hassan Abu Libdeh.

Without the occupation, the Palestinian Authority could end its dependence on foreign aid, the minister said. Abbas' Palestinian Authority receives hundreds of millions of dollars of aid every year.

The International Monetary Fund concluded in a separate report this year that the Palestinian per capita GDP would have been 88 percent higher if growth had continued at about the same rate as during the years 1968-1987 when borders with Israel were more open.

BAHRAIN:

Bahrain's special security court on Wednesday upheld sentences for 21 activists convicted for their roles in Shiite-led protests for greater rights, including eight prominent political figures given life terms on charges of trying to overthrow the Gulf kingdom's Sunni rulers.

The decision suggests Bahrain's authorities are unwilling to roll back punishments for those considered central to the anti-government uprising, although officials have taken other steps seeking to ease tensions. They include releasing some detainees and reinstating state workers purged for suspected support of the seven-month-old protest movement.

Bahrain's security forces — backed by a Gulf military force led by Saudi Arabia — have crushed large-scale demonstrations by the country's majority Shiites. But near daily clashes have broken out across the strategic island, which is home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.

The initial verdicts in June against the 21-member group — 14 jailed in Bahrain and seven convicted in absentia — touched off intense street battles and brought swift condemnation from international rights groups.

Shiites represent about 70 percent of Bahrain's population, but claim they face systematic discrimination and remain blocked from high-level military or political posts. Sunni rulers say they have offered dialogue on possible reforms but have been snubbed by groups favoring confrontation on the streets.

More than 30 people have died since the unrest began in February, inspired by other Arab revolts. Hundreds of others have been arrested or driven out of jobs or studies.

The appeal group included eight well-known political figures sentenced to life in prison after being charged as coup plotters.

They include prominent Shiite political leaders Hassan Mushaima and Abduljalil al-Singace and rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja. Mushaima returned from self-exile in London earlier this year after Bahrain's leaders promised to erase old charges of opposing the state.

Among those sentenced to life imprisonment, all but one of the defendants are in Bahrain. Thirteen others — including six sentenced in absentia — received shorter prison terms, apparently because they weren't considered leaders.

Defense lawyers say they plan to appeal the security court's decision to the country's highest civilian court.

YEMEN:

Tribesmen fighting Yemeni troops loyal to President Ali Abdullah Saleh shot down Wednesday an army fighter jet, as a sea of protesters demanded the under-fire leader's ouster and trial.

A Sukhoi SU-22 "fell during a regular mission" and opposition leaders were "responsible for the incident," said a military spokesman quoted by Saba state news agency.

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated near Sana'a's Change Square, the focal point of anti-regime protests in the violence-wracked Arabian Peninsula country, an Agence France-Presse correspondent reported.

"We shall not rest until the butcher is executed," the demonstrators chanted as they marched in a neighborhood of the capital controlled by dissident General Ali Muhsen al-Ahmar's First Armored Division.

Security forces loyal to Saleh blocked the road leading to government offices beyond the Qiyadah roundabout, forcing the protest to stay within the area controlled by the defected division.

Other demonstrations were staged in the cities of Taez, Hudayda and Ibb, but all ended peacefully, witnesses said.

The fighter jet was downed by anti-aircraft guns near Arhab, 40 kilometers (26 miles) north of Sana’a, where armed tribesmen have been locked in combat with the elite Republican Guard, led by Saleh's son Ahmed, witnesses said.

"We saw the downed plane in flames on the ground," one witness said.

Tribesmen captured the pilot after he ejected when the plane crashed in the village of Beit Azar, tribal sources said.

The tribal area of Arhab has been targeted by heavy air strikes since a general and six other soldiers were killed Sunday in clashes between tribesmen and the Republican Guard.

General Abdullah al-Kulaibi, head of the 63rd brigade of the elite Republican Guard unit, died in the attack by tribesman opposed to Saleh's rule in the strategic town of Nihm, the defense ministry said.

Four of the attackers were killed during the assault on the military base, about 60 km (40 miles) from the Yemeni capital, it said.

Tribal sources claimed on Monday that 33 troops were captured in the confrontation.

Meanwhile, three more gunmen were killed in overnight clashes with the guard, tribal sources said.

Nihm is one of several villages and towns that collectively make up the strategic northern gateway into Sana’a and is site of at least five Republican Guard bases.

The elite unit has so far prevented dissident General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, who now controls part of the capital, from calling in reinforcements from Yemen's northern provinces where parts of his division are deployed.

The tribesmen who carried out the assault on the military base late Sunday are allied with General Ahmar and have been battling government troops for control of the area.

Saleh, who is under international pressure to relinquish power and allow new elections, returned to the country last week, sparking violence in which scores have died.

The 69-year-old president has repeatedly refused to sign a power transfer deal brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council under which he would hand power to Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi in return for immunity from prosecution.

LIBYA:

With Libya's ex-leader Muammar Gaddafi and his sons still at large, the National Transitional Council (NTC) decided on Thursday to postpone the formation of an interim government until full liberation was achieved nationwide, reports Xinhua news agency.

The ruling authorities would postpone the establishment of an interim government till all Libya was under the NTC's control, Mahmoud Jibril, chairman of the executive office of the NTC, told the media.

The announcement confirmed Tuesday's Aljazeera TV report about the NTC's decision to suspend the formation of a new government.

On Tuesday, after consultations, the NTC made the decision to postpone the formation of a transitional body until the country is completely without Gaddafi's redoubts, NTC member Moustafa el-Huni said.

"Differences in views between NTC members and the executive council had delayed a deal," NTC chief Mustafa Abduljalil said.

NTC's military spokesman Ahmed Bani said on Wednesday that their priority is the "complete liberation of Libya" and security in all Libyan cities. "After that, we will do our best to hunt the man (Gaddafi)."

Bani also told the press that the NTC had located the whereabouts of the fallen leader's two sons: Saif al-Islam, who was holed up in Bani Walid, southeast of the capital Tripoli, and his brother Muatassim in Sirte.

However, Gaddafi's whereabouts remain unknown, Bani said, adding he wouldn't comment on rumors saying the former Libyan leader was now in the oasis town of Ghadames in west Libya.

Despite the postponement, this week saw greater efforts and progress made by the NTC to seize the fugitive leader, his sons and people serving him.

On Thursday, the international police agency INTERPOL published a Red Notice for Assaadi Gaddafi, one of the ousted leader's sons, at the request of the transitional authority.

Assaadi, 38, was accused by the NTC of "misappropriating properties through force and armed intimidation" when he headed the Libyan Football Federation.

The INTERPOL confirmed reports that Assaadi was last seen in Niger, and wanted countries "neighboring Libya and Niger, and those with travel connections to Niger" to help arrest Gaddafi's son and bring him back to Libya.

The INTERPOL Red Notice would "significantly restrict his ability to travel and cross international borders," INTERPOL Secretary-General Ronald K. Noble said.

In March, the NTC had already issued an arrest warrant for Assaadi for having allegedly been involved in the crackdown of anti-Gaddafi protests. He was also subject to a United Nations travel ban and assets freeze.

On Sept 9, the International Criminal Court requested INTERPOL issue a Red Notice for Gaddafi, his second son Saif al-Islam and former military intelligence director Abdullah al-Senussi.

On Thursday, the Misrata-based Freedom TV reported that Gaddafi's spokesman Moussa Ibrahim had been arrested by NTC fighters Wednesday night near Gaddafi's hometown Sirte.

The former spokesman was said to have been hiding among a group of local villagers fleeing Sirte, a source said.

But since peace has not yet been restored, the existing executive office would remain a caretaker administration, NTC executive office chairman Jibril said.

Libyan interim government forces recaptured the airport in Sirte, Muammar Gaddafi's birthplace, on Thursday, amid mounting concern for civilians trapped inside the besieged city.

NTC fighters took full control of Sirte airport, Reuters witnesses said. They had taken it two weeks ago, but then lost it again. Sirte's pro-Gaddafi defenders have used sniper, rocket and artillery fire to fight off two full-scale NTC assaults on the city in the past week.

Each side has accused the other of endangering civilians.

"They're shelling constantly. There's indiscriminate fire within individual neighborhoods and from one area to another," Hassan, a resident who escaped the city, told Reuters.

Civilians have been fleeing Sirte, a coastal city of 100,000 that is also under NATO aerial attack, and Libyan authorities have asked the United Nations for fuel for ambulances to evacuate wounded, a U.N. source in Libya said.

The United Nations is sending trucks of clean drinking water for civilians crammed into vehicles leaving Sirte for Benghazi in the west or Misrata in the east, the source said.

But fighting has prevented U.N. aid workers from reaching Sirte and Bani Walid, another town held by Gaddafi loyalists.

"There are two places we'd really like access to, Sirte and Ben Walid, because of concern on the impact of conflict on the civilian population," the source told Reuters in Geneva.

U.N. officials do not have any direct contact with pro-Gaddafi forces holed up in Sirte, where both sides accuse the other of cutting off water and electricity, he said.

Aid agencies said on Wednesday that a humanitarian disaster loomed in Sirte amid rising casualties and shrinking supplies of water, electricity and food.

Fighting on Sirte's eastern and western approaches was less intense on Thursday than on previous days, but the NTC said it had cleared a route between the two fronts, allowing its forces to link up -- a strategic boost along with retaking the airport.

More than a month after NTC fighters captured the capital Tripoli, Gaddafi remains on the run, trying to rally resistance to those who ended his 42-year rule, although some of his family members have taken refuge in neighboring Algeria and Niger.

Interpol issued an alert calling for the arrest of Gaddafi's son Saadi who fled to Niger three weeks ago. The Lyon-based police agency said it was acting at the request of the NTC, which accuses Saadi of leading military units responsible for crackdowns on protests and of misappropriating property.

Interpol has already issued "red notices" for the arrest of Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam and his intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi, all wanted for the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity.

Gaddafi's former prime minister, Al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi, who had fled to Tunisia, only to be arrested for illegal entry, has started a hunger strike in prison to protest a Libyan request for his extradition, his lawyer said.

Tunisian prosecutors say Mahmoudi will stay in jail pending an extradition decision, even though he won an appeal against a six-month prison sentence for entering Tunisia illegally.

Libya's new rulers are trying to get a grip on the whole country, rein in their own unruly militias and get on with reconstruction and democratic reform.

U.S. Senator John McCain, visiting Tripoli, said Gaddafi's overthrow had set an example to people all over the world, adding that U.S. investors were keen to do business with oil-exporting Libya once fighting there had stopped.

"We believe very strongly that the people of Libya today are inspiring the people in Tehran, in Damascus, and even in Beijing and Moscow. They continue to inspire the world -- and let people know that even the worst dictators can be overthrown and be replaced by freedom and democracy," he told a news conference.

EGYPT:

Egypt will hold on November 28 its first parliamentary election since an uprising ousted president Hosni Mubarak in February, the ruling military announced in a decree in Tuesday.

The country's military ruler, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, decided that the election would be held "over three rounds staring on November 28," the official MENA news agency reported.

The second round would be held on December 14, the third on January 3 and the new assembly would convene on March 17, MENA reported.

A three-round senate election will be held from January 29 to March 11.

The military also announced an amended election law under which two-thirds of parliament will be elected through a party list proportional representation system and the rest through a simple majority.

Only independent candidates are eligible to run for the simple majority seats, according to the law published by MENA, and each party will have to include at least one woman one its list.

More than two dozen political parties have rejected the electoral law, saying it could help return old regime figures to parliament.

They demand a pure proportional representation system and the activation of a law that would ban corrupt politicians from running for office.

Essam al-Erian, the vice president of the influential Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, said barring parties from a third of parliament would weaken the house.

"It's astonishing, and unprecedented. It's as though they are punishing the parties who demanded a list system. Having one-third of parliament unaffiliated with any party will weaken parliament," he said.

Mohammed Hamed, an official with the liberal Free Egyptians party, said a coalition of like-minded parties rejected the law, but there was no plan to boycott the election.

"It opens the way for old regime figures," he said. "Their justification is that party life in Egypt is still new; pre-revolution parties were weak and after the revolt they are still forming."

"But it is clear they want a percentage of (old regime members)," he said.

The military, which took charge of the country after former president Hosni Mubarak's ouster, suspended the last parliament in February.

The house, which will be reduced from 508 to 498 seats, was dominated by members of Mubarak's now dissolved National Democratic Party after a controversial election in November that saw opposition candidates trounced.

The NDP used to court candidates who would win votes because of family connections or money. Hundreds had run as independents in previous elections if they did not make it on NDP lists, only to join the party after winning seats.

The Freedom and Justice Party will contest roughly half of parliament's seats in the coming election.

It has warned against any delay in the election, which secular groups have advocated because they fear the better-organized Islamist parties will snap up the seats.

Dozens of parties, ranging from hard-line Islamist to liberal, have sprung up after Mubarak's resignation on February 11.

One of the parties granted official status by a government committee was founded by Hossam Badrawi, the last secretary general of Mubarak's National Democratic Party. Badrawi resigned a day before Mubarak stepped down.

Following the parliamentary and senate election, a committee will draft a new constitution to replace Mubarak's and then presidential elections will be held.

The committee has up to six months to finish its work, meaning the presidential election might not be held until the end of August.

The military had promised that it would not conduct the election under a state of emergency, which was widened in scope this month after protesters ransacked the Israeli embassy in Cairo and clashed with police.

But a military official told state media later that the emergency law could stay in place until mid-2012, although the military wanted to end the state of emergency as soon as possible.

The interior ministry, which was accused of intervening in past elections in favor of the ruling party, has pledged it would work only to secure polling stations from the outside in the coming elections.

SYRIA:

Syria’s Foreign Ministry Thursday accused the United States of inciting “armed groups” into acts of violence targeting the country’s military.

“Comments by American officials, notably [U.S. State Department spokesman] Mark Toner, are striking proof that the United States encourages armed groups to commit violence against the Syrian Arab army,” a ministry statement said.

The accusation came as America’s ambassador in Syria, Robert Ford, was reportedly blocked inside a building by pro-regime demonstrators after he arrived at the office in Damascus of opposition member Hassan Abdulazim.

According to Abdulazim, “nearly 100 protesters” tried to break into his office as the U.S. envoy arrived for a meeting.

“They were protesting in the street and at the entrance to the building. They tried to break down the door of my office, but didn’t succeed,” Abdulazim told AFP.

“As soon as the ambassador came in at around 11:00 a.m. we heard a noise outside and hostile slogans being chanted. The demonstrators tried to attack the office,” he added.

Ambassador Ford was still in the office two hours later waiting for security forces to arrive so he could leave under their protection, Abdulazim said.

Toner Tuesday, in answer to a question by a reporter, said in Washington it came as no surprise that some arms are being sent to Syria’s opposition.

“Well, look, I think it’s not surprising, given the level of violence over the past months, that we’re now seeing members of the military – or, rather, members of the opposition – begin to turn violent, or, rather, begin to use violence against the military as an act of self-preservation,” Toner said.

“I would say that the opposition’s shown extraordinary restraint in the face of the regime’s brutality and demanding their rights through peaceful unarmed demonstrations,” he added.

“It goes without saying that the longer the regime continues to repress, kill, and jail these peaceful activists, the more likely that this peaceful movement’s going to become violent.”

The U.S. ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, was safe Thursday after being attacked by a pro-government group, a U.S. government official told CNN.

"It was an attack by an armed mob and he is OK," said the official, who was not authorized to speak to the media and did not want to be named.

Ford, who has been outspoken against the Syrian government's use of violence against protesters, is seen by pro-government supporters as an activist more than a diplomat.

Ford sparked a diplomatic firestorm in July when he traveled to the restive city of Hama to express support for demonstrators. He was welcomed with flowers by local residents who had suffered a brutal crackdown by government forces. President Bashar al-Assad's government called the trip an attempt to foment dissent.

Since then, Ford has continued to be seen by some as serving as a traditional diplomat and more as a provocateur.

A crowd tried to assault Ford and embassy colleagues "as they went about doing the normal work of any embassy," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.

"The mob was violent; it tried, unsuccessfully, to attack embassy personnel while they were inside several embassy vehicles, seriously damaging the vehicles in the process," Toner said.

Syrian security officers helped secure a path back to the U.S. Embassy for the ambassador and his staff.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned we she described as "an unwarranted attack" when Ford and his aides were conducting "normal embassy business."

Clinton said it was an "inexcusable assault" that is "clearly part of an ongoing campaign of intimidation."

At the time of the attack, Ford was visiting Hassan Abdulazim, head of the opposition Arab Socialist Democratic Union.

According to Abdulazim, about 50 to 100 people gathered at the door to his office and began to chant loudly when Ford arrived.

Some of them even tried to break down the door, he said.

The crowd protested rowdily for more than two hours, he said.

Abdulazim could not confirm what Ford was attacked with, but a witness said the demonstrators threw tomatoes, adding that tomatoes were cleaned up off the street afterward.

During their meeting, Abdulazim told Ford that his party doesn't want outside intervention in Syria's unrest, but it does want freedom, democracy and peaceful coexistence among all religious groups.

Ford's outreach to the Syrian opposition has infuriated Syrian government officials. The official Syrian news agency, SANA, citing comments made Monday by Toner, accused the United States of encouraging armed opposition groups to carry out acts of violence against the Syrian army.

Monday, Toner told reporters in Washington that "the (Syrian) government's continued use of violence against innocent civilians, I think, is engendering the opposition to use violence back at the Syrian authorities. ... It's a matter of self-defense."

Meanwhile, the spokesman for the French Embassy in Washington, Luis Vassy, told CNN that the French ambassador to Syria was attacked a few days ago with eggs and stones by pro-government demonstrators after he met with the Greek Orthodox patriarch in Damascus.

France protested the attack. Nobody was injured, but Vassy called the incident "obviously unacceptable."

"We hold the Syrians responsible of the security of our personnel in Syria," Vassy said.

During the summer, the French Embassy in Damascus was attacked by people entering the precinct, and embassy guards had to fire warning shots, Vassy said.

The U.S. ambassador to Syria escaped a violent mob of government supporters in Damascus Thursday, a day after Syrian security forces killed at least 17 protesters.

Ambassador Robert Ford, a critic of President Bashar al- Assad, was in the office of opposition lawyer Hassan Abdulazim when the mob surrounded it, Mahmoud Merhi, head of the Arab Organization for Human Rights, said by phone.

The incident took place as the United Nations Security Council prepared to debate a resolution condemning Syrian violence against protesters.

“A crowd of demonstrators tried to assault Ambassador Ford and embassy colleagues today [Thursday] as they met with “a well-known Syrian political figure,” State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said.

Toner said the mob tried to attack U.S. officials who were inside vehicles, seriously damaging the cars in the process.

“Syrian security officers finally assisted in securing a path” for the ambassador and his aides to return to the embassy, Toner said.

Ford’s car was pelted with rocks, eggs, tomatoes and sticks, a person familiar with the situation said. The four- wheel-drive vehicle had dents and some of its windows were cracked or shattered, the person said.

Security forces killed the protesters in the central governorate of Homs, the northern province of Idlib and southern area of Daraa, Merhi said.

The Syrian protests are part of the wave of unrest across the Middle East and North Africa that unseated governments in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Assad’s crackdown has left more than 3,600 civilians dead since the unrest began in March, according to Ammar Qurabi of the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria.

About 30,000 people have been detained and 13,000 are still being held, according to Qurabi and Merhi.

There have been reports in the last three days of clashes between security forces and Syrians who have defected to the opposition, Merhi said. Al Arabiya television broadcast video of army defectors, saying they had attacked and killed agents of the government and freed 27 children and their teacher. Merhi said he could not verify the statements.

Toner said at a Sept. 26 State Department briefing that it was a “natural development” that Syrian opposition groups would start using violence against security forces as an “act of self-preservation.” Responsibility for such violent acts lay with Assad’s government, he said.

Syria’s foreign ministry said Toner’s comments were “irresponsible” and encouraged acts terror and chaos, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported. “The U.S. is involved in encouraging armed groups to practice violence” against the army, it asserted.

The Security Council is scheduled to meet on Syria in New York to debate the draft resolution.

European nations on the Security Council gave the panel a third version of their draft resolution, which calls for the council to “consider” sanctions 30 days after adoption of the measure if Syria doesn’t halt the violence. It also urges restraint on “all sides” and greater involvement of the Arab League in a political solution to the crisis.

“While the EU draft resolution does not contain the individual sanctions and arms embargo we have called for, we believe many of its provisions would help ratchet up the pressure on the Syrian regime to put an end to the killing,” Philippe Bolopion, United Nations director at New York-based Human Rights Watch, said in an e-mailed statement.