(DAMASCUS, Syria) — The U.S. embassy in Syria is pulling out some of its staff due to the deteriorating security situation in the country, the State Department announced Wednesday.
U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford remains in the country and officials say there has been no decision yet whether to close the embassy. Officials warn, however, that the reduction in staff will mean a reduction in the embassy’s ability to provide American citizen and visa services. It also means that the American Language Center and the Damascus Community School will not be able to resume operations after the upcoming holiday break.
The move comes as the government’s crackdown on protestors has become increasingly violent in recent days. According to one report, up to 250 people have been killed so far this week, including more than 100 people in one village. The opposition Syrian National Council says government forces surrounded and massacred nearly the entire town of Kfar Owaid.
The bloodshed took place just as Syria agreed to allow international monitors to enter and witness what is happening there. An advance team from the Arab League is expected to arrive on Thursday.
In an updated travel warning issued late Wednesday, the State Department warned Americans to avoid travel to Syria and to depart immediately; those who must remain should limit their travel. The warning also noted the increased violence, which it said has spread to the capital of Damascus.
“Demonstrations, and violent government reactions to them, can occur with little or no warning anytime and anywhere,” the warning said.
The regime of President Bashar al-Assad has intensified its crackdown on protestors who have demonstrated in the streets to seek his ouster since last spring. Some in the opposition have begun to fight back, but U.S. and opposition figures say most are unarmed and peaceful.
The Obama administration has matched Assad’s escalating use of violence with increasingly harsh criticism and calls for action. On Wednesday the White House again called on Assad to step down, saying his promises of reform have “no credibility.”
Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio
Susan Scutti, CNN
Lorenzo Ferrigno, CNN
Lauren del Valle, CNN