AWKAR, Lebanon: Tens of supporters of President Bashar Assad gathered Saturday near the American Embassy in Awkar, north of Beirut, for a second day of demonstrations against a possible U.S.-led strike against the regime in Syria.
Amid tightened security, the protesters chanted slogans slamming the potential strike which the U.S. says is needed to dissuade the use of chemical weapons by the Damascus government.
Security forces including soldiers and anti-riot police deployed heavily in the area and prevented the protesters from reaching the embassy, forcing the demonstrators to hold the rally at Awkar square.
“ U.S. - Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me,” a banner held by one protester read, in an apparent reference to the 2003 invasion of Iraq led by former U.S. President George W. Bush.
“The Syrians deserve life. Assist in dialogue, not war,” read another banner.
At one point during the demonstration, protesters set fire to a picture of U.S. President Barack Obama while others thanked Catholic Pope Francis for holding a global day of prayer for peace in Syria and for his opposition to any military action in Lebanon’s neighbor.
This is the second consecutive protest outside the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon organized by parties aligned with the pro-Assad March 8 coalition over the potential strike.
The Embassy drew down Friday non-emergency staff members and their families and asked U.S. nationals to avoid travel to Lebanon, citing security concerns.
Washington is considering a military strike on Syria aimed at limiting Assad’s capabilities and punishing government forces over their alleged use of poisonous gas on Syrian citizens.
The U.S. has accused Assad of using the chemical gas on several occasions this year including an Aug. 21 attack in a Damascus suburb that led to the killing of hundreds.
The European Union backed Saturday a strong response over the use of chemical weapons but it was not clear whether the regional organization would back any sort of military offensive.
Lebanese officials have repeatedly urged the international community to insulate the volatile country from any attack on Syria.