BEIRUT (AP) — The Arab League said Wednesday that Washington overstepped its bounds by saying Syrian President Bashar Assad had lost the legitimacy to lead his country.
Speaking to reporters in Damascus, Arab League Chief Nabil Elaraby said Assad assured him that "Syria has entered a new era and is now moving on the road of a genuine reform."
Syria came under withering international criticism Tuesday as the White House said Assad has "lost legitimacy" and the U.N. Security Council condemned attacks on the U.S. and French embassies in Damascus.
It was a sharp escalation in pressure on Assad and a sign that the Obama administration could be moving closer to calling for regime change in Syria over the violent crackdown on a four-month-old uprising. Previously, the U.S. position on Assad was that he should lead a transition to democracy or leave.
Elaraby said nobody has the right to say that the president of any country has lost his legitimacy.
"This issue is exclusively decided by the people," he said after meeting Assad.
Since the uprising began in mid-March, the Arab League has been mostly silent about the situation in Syria. Last month, Elaraby's deputy, Ahmed bin Heli, said Syria was a "main factor of balance and stability in the region." Elaraby repeated that position Wednesday.
Also Wednesday, Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said he regretted Monday's attacks by government supporters on the U.S. and French embassies in Damascus.
"Whoever did that was wrong," al-Moallem said, adding that Syria is responsible for protecting the embassies and their staff "and we bear full responsibility for that."
Hundreds of Syrian government supporters smashed the embassies' windows and spray painted walls with graffiti. Three French Embassy workers were injured.
Earlier Wednesday, Syria's Oil Ministry said fire damaged a natural gas pipeline in eastern Syria. It was unclear if the blaze was accidental or sabotage. No casualties were reported.
Syria's state-run news agency said production continued using other pipelines. Syria produces about 350,000 barrels of oil per day as well as natural gas.
There were conflicting details about the fire late Tuesday in Deir el-Zour province, near the border with Iraq. Witnesses said they heard an explosion, raising concerns that there had been an attack. But Syria's Oil Ministry denied any explosion and said a fire erupted on a pipeline that was under maintenance.
Syria's oil exports are among the main earners of foreign currency to the government, particularly now that the country's four-month-old uprising has hit the tourism industry. Last year, tourism accounted for roughly 12 percent of GDP and brought in $8 billion in hard currency.
Reports of an explosion at the Al-Furat Oil Company's pipeline raised concerns of an attack, which would be the first of its kind as the country tries to quell the revolt against President Bashar Assad's regime.
Contact Bassem Mroue at http://twitter.com/bmroue
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