The U.S. State Department has urged American citizens to leave Syria immediately amid intensifying violence in President Bashar al-Assad’s crackdown on opposition protesters.
The State Department’s warning followed increasing protests Friday in the city of Hama and in the suburbs of Damascus, the latest in a six-month government crackdown which has killed over 2,000 activists.
In a statement Friday the State Department warned that U.S. citizens should depart Syria at once while commercial transportation is still available. The announcement was an update to the April 25 warning that families of U.S. embassy staff and non-emergency personnel must leave the country.
The State Department further noted that the Damascus government has placed “severe” constraints on the travel of U.S. diplomats in Syria, which could affect their ability to get out of the country.
As of yet, the department has not announced an evacuation of the U.S. embassy in Syria. The US Bureau of Consular Affairs announced August 5 that “Embassy operations continue to the extent possible under the constraints of an evolving security situation.”
According to the State Department, though, "Syrian government constraints on observers, including the short-term detention of accredited diplomats, have made it difficult for U.S. embassy personnel to adequately assess the current risks or the potential for continuing violence."
The State Department went on to warn of the unpredictability and volatility of demonstrations which have been violently suppressed by the Syrian government since March.
The department reminded US citizens, "Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence. US citizens are urged to avoid the areas of demonstrations if possible, and to exercise caution if within the vicinity of a demonstration."
U.S. citizens have been warned: "Syrian efforts to attribute the current civil unrest to external influences may lead to an increase in anti-foreigner sentiment [and] detained US citizens may find themselves subject to allegations of incitement or espionage."
Amid the exodus of American citizens and growing threat to embassy personnel, U.S. envoy to Damascus, Robert Ford, returned to Syria on Thursday. Ford’s return came only days before Saudi Arabia and Kuwait made the decision to recall their ambassadors.
Ford discussed his continued presence in Syria in a U.S. television interview, saying Washington will continue to “try to ratchet up the pressure” on President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Supporting this hard stance on Syria, the White House has said, “They welcomed the August 3 presidential statement by the UN Security Council condemning Syria’s actions.”
The White House has also “agreed to consider additional steps to pressure the Assad regime and support the Syrian people.”
President Obama consulted with NATO leaders this weekend regarding the intensifying situation in Syria. In conversations with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Obama discussed additional sanctions on Damascus.
It is not immediately clear what the new measures could be, though it appears that the U.S. might be heading towards a direct call for President Assad to step down, the BBC has reported.