REPORTING FROM WASHINGTON -- The State Department said Monday it was suspending operations at the U.S. Embassy in Syria's capital because of growing safety risks and had removed the ambassador and all other American personnel.
The department said in a statement that bombings in Damascus on Dec. 23 and Jan. 6 had raised “serious concerns” about the safety of the embassy and that Syrian authorities had “failed to respond adequately” to requests for more security help.
Ambassador Robert Ford would continue trying to serve as U.S. representative to Syria from Washington and would seek to maintain contacts with Syrians, the statement said.
The U.S. government remains deeply concerned by the rising violence in Syria, the statement said. It blamed the violence on “the dangerous path” Syrian President Bashar Assad has chosen in stepping up the regime’s attacks on anti-government demonstrators. The United Nations estimates that nearly 6,000 people have been killed during protests that have racked Syria since last March.
The State Department again urged world powers to support a diplomatic plan laid out by the Arab League, which calls for Assad to turn over his powers to a deputy to open the way to a democratic government. Russia and China vetoed a U.N. Security Council measure backing that plan over the weekend.
The State Department announcement was not a surprise. U.S. officials said two weeks ago that they would be forced to close the embassy if the Syrians did not provide more security assistance, as the U.S. had requested.
-- Paul Richter
Photo: The U.S. Embassy building in Damascus, Syria, on Jan. 12, 2011. The State Department said Monday that operations at the embassy have been temporarily suspended due to security concerns. Credit: Bassem Tellawi / Associated Press