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Middle east

US, British ambassadors recalled from Damascus

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2012-02-06

The United States has closed its embassy in Damascus and recalled all diplomatic personnel amid persistent security concerns, US officials said Monday. Britain also recalled its ambassador to Syria "for consultations" on Monday.

AFP - The United States closed its embassy in Syria and pulled out all its staff on Monday amid growing security concerns as President Bashar al-Assad's government intensifies its bloody crackdown.

Britain also recalled its envoy, but US President Barack Obama stressed the importance of diplomacy and said it was a very different situation from Libya, where Western military intervention helped oust Moamer Kadhafi.

"The United States has suspended operations of our embassy in Damascus as of February 6. Ambassador (Robert) Ford and all American personnel have now departed the country," a State Department statement said.

"The recent surge in violence, including bombings in Damascus on December 23 and January 6, has raised serious concerns that our embassy is not sufficiently protected from armed attack," it said, referring to attacks linked to Al-Qaeda.

"We, along with several other diplomatic missions, conveyed our security concerns to the Syrian government but the regime failed to respond adequately."

Obama said a negotiated solution with Syria was still possible and defended his administration's handling of crisis, saying the US had been "relentless" in demanding that Assad leave power.

"It is important to resolve this without recourse to outside military intervention and I think that's possible," he said in an NBC interview broadcast Monday.

"My sense is you are seeing more and more people inside of Syria recognizing that they need to turn a chapter and the Assad regime is feeling the noose tightening around them. This is not a matter of if but when."

Western powers have vowed to seek new ways to punish Assad's government amid growing outrage over vetos by Russia and China of a UN resolution condemning Syria for a deadly crackdown that has claimed the lives of more than 6,000 people since March, according to rights groups.

"Russia and China will, I think, come to regret this decision which has aligned them with a dying dictator, whose days are numbered, and put them at odds with the Syrian people and the entire region," Washington's UN ambassador Susan Rice said on Monday.

She added that the vote on Saturday, which came just hours after Syrian forces bombed the city of Homs, killing hundreds of civilians, "put a stake in the heart of efforts to resolve this conflict peacefully."

The resolution on the table "would have given political backing to an Arab League plan to begin a negotiated transition," Rice told CNN.

At least another 47 people were killed across Syria on Monday as government troops attacked the flashpoint city of Homs and opened fire in Damascus, Aleppo and Zabadani, activists said.

"The deteriorating security situation that led to the suspension of our diplomatic operations makes clear once more the dangerous path Assad has chosen and the regime's inability to fully control Syria," the State Department said.

"It also underscores the urgent need for the international community to act without delay to support the Arab League's transition plan before the regime's escalating violence puts a political solution out of reach and further jeopardizes regional peace and security."

Senior State Department officials told CNN that two embassy employees left by air last week and 15 others, including Ford, departed overland via Jordan on Monday morning.

"The government is getting stretched beyond its ability to control the various elements of violence in the country," one senior official was quoted as saying.

The State Department stressed that Ford remains the ambassador and "will maintain contacts with the Syrian opposition and continue our efforts to support the peaceful political transition which the Syrian people have so bravely sought."

Date created : 2012-02-06


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