Russian Embassy in Syria shelled by insurgents
Civil war has killed more than 250,000 people and displaced half of Syria's population
Insurgents fired two shells at the Russian Embassy in the Syrian capital on Tuesday as hundreds of pro-government supporters gathered outside the compound to thank Moscow for its intervention in Syria.
An Associated Press reporter was outside the embassy when the first shell slammed into the compound in central Damascus and smoke billowed from inside. As people started running away, another shell hit the area. No one was harmed in the shelling.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov condemned the attack, saying "this is obviously a terrorist act intended to, probably, frighten supporters of the war against terror and to not allow them to prevail in the fight with extremism."
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An official with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent said no one was hurt in the shelling. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said the second shell hit about 200 metres from the embassy compound.
Rebels in the capital's suburbs have targeted the embassy in the past, and it was not clear if Tuesday's attack targeted the rally.
Insurgents have vowed to fight Russian forces after Moscow began launching airstrikes in Syria late last month. Russia has been one of Syrian President Bashar Assad's strongest supporters since the start of the uprising in 2011. The civil war has killed more than 250,000 people and displaced half of Syria's population.
Before the shelling, the demonstrators had gathered outside the embassy carrying posters showing Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin, and waved the two countries' flags.
Some held placards that read: "Thanks Russia" and "Syria and Russia are together to fight terrorism."
"President Putin's stances were absolutely positive for Syria," said 39-year-old civil servant Nizar Maqsoud.
"All the West stood against us. Only Russia backed us . we are all here to thank Russia and President Putin," said Osama Salal, an 18-year-old student.
Russia began launching airstrikes in Syria on Sept. 30, allowing Syrian government forces to launch a multi-pronged ground assault. Moscow insists it is mainly targeting the Islamic State group and other "terrorists," but the ground-and-air offensive is being waged in areas controlled by U.S.-backed rebels as well as other insurgents, including the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front.