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Thursday, April 28, 2011     GET REAL

State Department recalls staffers in Syria, warns Americans to leave

WASHINGTON — The United States has reduced its staff in Syria.


The State Department has been recalling diplomatic staffers from the U.S. embassy in Damascus. The department has also called on all Americans to leave Syria amid the revolt against the regime of President Bashar Assad.

"The U.S. Department of State urges U.S. citizens to depart immediately while commercial transportation is readily available," the State Department said. "Given the uncertainty and volatility of the current situation, U.S. citizens who must remain in Syria are advised to limit nonessential travel within the country."

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In a statement on April 25, the State Department ordered family members of U.S. government employees as well as non-essential personnel to leave Syria, Middle East Newsline reported. The department said embassy operations would continue to the extent possible "under the constraints of an evolving security situation."

"Since March 2011, demonstrations throughout Syria have been violently suppressed by Syrian security forces, resulting in hundreds of deaths," the department said. "Demonstrations can take place anytime and anywhere. Recent demonstrations have occurred on university campuses, main streets, public squares, mosques, and other places of public gathering."

The State Department said several cities, including Damascus, have been placed under what was termed heightened security. The statement said travelers on Syrian roads have encountered numerous checkpoints and roadblocks, which have impeded travel.

On April 22, security forces prevented many from entering or leaving Damascus. Officials said Syrian government constraints on observers, including the short-term detention of accredited diplomats, have made it difficult for embassy personnel to assess the revolt.

"Syrian efforts to attribute the current civil unrest to external influences may lead to an increase in anti-foreigner sentiment," the department said. "Detained U.S. citizens may find themselves subject to allegations of incitement or espionage."

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