US considers closing embassy in Syria

Warning follows deterioration of security, US official tells Al Jazeera, as Syrians rally in support of detainees.

At least 12 people were killed in Syria, activists reported on Friday, as thousands rallied against the government [AFP]

The US is considering closing its embassy in Damascus due to the deteriorating security situation in Syria, a US official told Al Jazeera, as violence in the country continues.

The official said on Friday that the US would close the embassy unless the embattled government of Bashar al-Assad improves security in the area.

The threat to close the embassy comes in the wake of two alleged suicide car bombings in Damascus last month that left at least 44 people dead.

The official said that the bombings might have been carried out by al-Qaeda-linked fighters from Iraq or Syria but that the US government did not rule out the possibility that the Syrian government conducted the bombings itself.

“They have used that facility … in order to send a message from inside Syria to the Syrian government that Bashar al-Assad must step down, that’s the US position, and now they’re taking that just a little further, considering actually pulling out, which of course highlights the level of violence there,” Al Jazeera’s John Hendren, reporting from Washington DC, said.

Leaving the embassy would mean the US would lose insight into events on the ground, which the government probably wants to avoid, but administration officials probably “don’t mind the fact” that they are painting a negative portrait of the security situation, our correspondent said.

In October, the US ordered family members of embassy staff to depart and restricted staffing, and last week ordered an additional reduction in embassy staff as violence continues to build in the country.

Robert Ford, the US ambassador in Damascus, returned to Syria early in December after having been recalled to Washington in October because of threats to his safety.

Arab mission’s fate

In other developments, thousands of people rallied against the government in most of Syria’s provinces, in a day dubbed the “Friday for revolutionary detainees”.

At least 12 people were killed, mostly in the northwestern province of Idlib, an activist network reported, as people took to the streets in solidarity with reportedly tens of thousands of political prisoners in Syrian jails.

The Local Co-ordination Committees said it documented 455 points of protests in 12 out of the country’s 14 provinces, adding that Friday’s demonstrations were the largest in both size and scope in weeks.

The protests came as Arab League peace monitors are set to meet with the bloc’s foreign ministers in Cairo on Sunday to decide their future course of action after the culmination of their one-month mission in the country.

The widely criticised regional bloc mission hangs in the balance as General Mohammed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi, its head, prepares to report to Arab foreign ministers, who will decide whether to extend it for a second month.

Two senior Arab League senior officials told the Associated Press news agency that the organisation was likely to extend its monitoring mission, initiated to verify whether an Arab peace plan was working.

‘Cover for crackdown’

Critics say the Arab mission has only provided diplomatic cover for Assad to pursue a crackdown that has already killed more than 5,000 people by a UN count.

Hundreds of people have been killed since the monitors arrived in Syria, where an armed revolt has grown in recent months, contesting Assad’s grip on several parts of the country.

Some activists reported as many as 740 civilians were killed in total in the last month.

Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr, reporting from neighbouring Lebanon, said: “Most of people on the streets have lost faith in this mission, they don’t believe it [Arab mission] has been able to stop the violence.

“That’s why there are growing calls for the Arab League to refer the file to UN Security Council.”

The Security Council has appeared paralysed by divisions over Syria, with Russia and China opposing any tough action.

Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies


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