Syrian government loyalists have stormed the Saudi and Qatar embassies in Damascus, angered that both nations supported an Arab League decision to suspend Syria's membership for continuing a deadly crackdown on an opposition uprising.
Saudi Arabia condemned Saturday's assault on its embassy in the Syrian capital, saying it holds Damascus responsible for the security of all Saudi interests in the country. The official Saudi Press Agency says anti-Arab League protesters threw stones at the embassy building, smashed windows and ransacked offices. A large crowd also gathered outside Qatar's embassy and broke through the gates.
Syrian state media say thousands of government supporters rallied in Damascus, Aleppo, Lattakia and other cities on Saturday to protest the Arab League vote, which came earlier in the day. Many of the demonstrators waved Syrian flags and held pictures of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The Arab League voted to suspect Syria beginning Wednesday if the Assad government continues to ignore an Arab League plan calling for dialogue with the opposition and an end to the violent crackdown on the eight-month old revolt.
Syria signed on to the plan on November 2, but the violence has escalated, with more than 100 people killed in attacks by security forces on anti-Assad protesters and in deadly battles between the military and army defectors.
The Arab League vote drew praise from the United Nations, the United States and Britain. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the move "strong and courageous" and welcomed the league's intention to provide protection for Syrian civilians. Mr. Ban said the world body is "ready to provide the relevant support when requested."
U.S. President Barack Obama said the Arab League decision increases the diplomatic isolation of a government that has "flagrantly failed to keep its commitments" and "systematically violated human rights and repressed peaceful protests."
A spokesman for British Prime Minister David Cameron reiterated a call by Western powers for Assad to step down after 11 years in power and allow a political transition to begin.
In its vote Saturday, the Arab League also called on Arab states to withdraw their ambassadors from Syria and consider economic sanctions on the country. Saudi Arabia pulled its envoy out of Damascus in August in protest at the crackdown.
Syria's ambassador to the league, Youssef Ahmed, rejected the vote as illegal and contrary to the organization's charter. He said the Syrian government remains committed to fulfilling the Arab League peace plan.
The U.N. human rights agency says at least 3,500 people have been killed in Syria in connection with anti-Assad protests, which have been under way since March. Syria blames much of the deadly violence on foreign-backed "terrorists" and extremists.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.