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Diplomats Leave Syria Amid Violence

February 06, 2012

The United States says it has pulled all its diplomats out of Syria, while Britain is recalling its ambassador from Damascus for consultations on the escalating violence in the country.

The U.S. Embassy in Damascus said Ambassador Robert Ford and other diplomats left Syria on February 6.

The State Department has warned that it would close the embassy unless President Bashar al-Assad's government stepped up its protection. It cited concerns about the safety of personnel.

Earlier in Washington, President Barack Obama told U.S. television that it was important to resolve the ongoing conflict in Syria without outside military intervention.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said later on February 6 that his country was using multiple channels to express its "abhorrence" at the violent crackdown on dissent by al-Assad's regime.

He told parliament that Syria's ambassador had been summoned to the Foreign Office to convey that message, and announced that he had recalled Britain’s ambassador to Syria for consultations.

Russia, China Defend Veto

The U.S. and British moves come after Russia and China vetoed on February 4 a UN Security Council draft resolution that would have called for al-Assad to step down, and amid continued violence in Syria.

After talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Paris, French President Nicolas Sarkozy indicated on February 6 that both countries would "not abandon” Syria.

"I'm going to telephone Russian President Dmitry Medvedev this afternoon on the subject of Syria and, with [Chancellor Merkel's] permission, I will speak for the both of us," he said. "[French Prime Minister] Francois Fillon will also call Prime Minister Putin on the same subject."

The U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, said China and Russia were running the risk of suffering the same sort of international isolation as al-Assad and "will come to regret" their votes.

Russian Foreign Minister said that approving the resolution, which was backed by the Arab League and supported by the Security Council's 13 other members, would have amounted to taking sides in what he called Syria's "civil war."

Lavrov and Russian Foreign Intelligence Service head Mikhail Fradkov are expected to travel to Damascus on February 7 to meet with al-Assad.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry rejected U.S. accusations that China and Russia were sheltering the Syrian regime, saying Beijing only wanted to uphold justice.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul also expressed his country's disappointment over the veto by Russia and China.

"Everyone should remember that the Cold War period is over," he said. "Violations of human rights within a country and the use of military force against the people have no place in the world anymore. This has been ignored in this respect."

'Government Bombardment' Of Homs

In Cairo, the head of the Arab League said that the Syrian army's use of heavy weapons against civilians was an escalation that was edging the country towards civil war.

Meanwhile, Syrian security forces have reportedly launched renewed attacks on several flashpoint cities, killing scores of people.

Opposition sources say at least 17 people have been killed in a bombardment by government forces of the flashpoint central city of Homs.

The government denied shelling Homs, accusing "armed terrorist gangs" for the violence.

Activists also said at least three more civilians were killed when security forces opened fire in the cities of Aleppo and Zabadani, and in the capital, Damascus.

More than 6,000 people are estimated to have been killed in the Syrian conflict since the al-Assad regime launched its crackdown on protesters in March, 2011.

Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby said on February 5 that Arab states would continue their efforts to help resolve the Syrian crisis.

Compiled from agency reports


Copyright (c) 2012. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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