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Sunday, August 7, 2011     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

U.S. citizens warned to leave Syria 'immediately'

WASHINGTON — The United States is urging Americans to leave Syria immediately amid the revolt against President Bashar Assad.


The State Department warned Americans to leave Syria amid bloody clashes between Assad's security forces and pro-democracy demonstrators. The department raised the prospect that commercial airlines might not operate much longer in the Arab state, in which at least 2,000 civilians were killed since March.

"The U.S. Department of State urges U.S. citizens in Syria to depart immediately while commercial transportation is available," the department said on Aug. 5.

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The department did not announce any evacuation of the U.S. embassy in Syria. The travel warning said Americans "who must remain in Syria are advised to limit non-essential travel within the country. U.S. citizens not in Syria should defer all travel to Syria at this time."

The Assad regime has placed severe constraints on the travel of diplomats within Syria, the department said. This was said to have included restrictions on U.S. consular officers to provide assistance outside Damascus.

"Syrian government constraints on observers, including the short-term detention of accredited diplomats, have made it difficult for U.S. embassy personnel to adequately assess the current risks or the potential for continuing violence," the department said.

The statement said Damascus and several other cities contain a heavy deployment of security forces. The department said security forces have increased checkpoints along highways.

"Travelers should heed directions given by Syrian police and/or security officials and should always carry a copy of their passport as proof of citizenship and identity," the department said. "Taking photographs of demonstrations, public gatherings, or anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest may result in questioning, detention, and/or confiscation of the images."

At the same time, President Barack Obama has been consulting with leaders of NATO allies regarding the revolt in Syria. On Aug. 6, Obama conducted telephone conversations with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel regarding additional sanctions on Damascus.

"They welcomed the Aug. 3 presidential statement by the UN Security Council condemning Syria's actions, but also agreed to consider additional steps to pressure the Assad regime and support the Syrian people," the White House said.

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