US evacuates Beirut embassy

Agence France-Presse
(UPDATED) The conflict in Syria has increasingly spilled over into Lebanon, leading to the decision

EVACUATE. Lebanese soldiers block a road leading to the American embassy in eastern Beirut as supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad demonstrated against a possible US military strike on Syria. The State Department ordered nonessential US diplomats to leave Lebanon over security concerns and urged private American citizens to depart as well. Photo by AFP/Anwar Amro

WASHINGTON DC, USA (UPDATED) – The United States Friday was evacuating non-essential staff from its Beirut embassy, urging Americans to avoid all travel to Lebanon and defer trips to southeastern Turkey as it mulls strikes in neighboring Syria.

“The Department of State has ordered a drawdown of non-emergency US government personnel and family members in Beirut, Lebanon and approved the drawdown of non-emergency personnel and family members who wish to leave Adana, Turkey,” deputy State spokeswoman Marie Harf said.

The evacuations came as United States has been trying to build support for US military strikes on the Syrian regime in retaliation for its alleged use of chemical weapons during an August 21 attack in a Damascus suburb.

The decision had been made due to “current tensions in the region, as well as potential threats to US government facilities and personnel,” Harf said in a statement.

But she stressed the State Department was acting out of “an abundance of caution to protect our employees and their families, and local employees and visitors to our facilities.”

Separately, the State Department said the consulate general in Adana “has been authorized to draw down its non-emergency staff and family members because of threats against US government facilities and personnel.”

Lebanese authorities said, meanwhile, they had boosted security measures at foreign diplomatic missions ahead of any international military action against Syria.

Harf warned any US citizens who chose to remain in Lebanon or southeastern Turkey that they “should limit nonessential travel within the country, be aware of their surroundings whether in their residences or moving about, make their own contingency emergency plans.”

The conflict in Syria has increasingly spilled over into Lebanon, which is also hosting more than 700,000 refugees — some of the two million who have fled the violence that erupted in March 2011.

Turkey is also hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees, and has witnessed attacks from the Syrian regime across its shared border.

The US warning would be reviewed, Harf said. “We will continue to assess the situation and to adjust our security posture accordingly.”

Precautions

The Beirut evacuation comes a month after a number of US embassies in the Middle East and Africa were closed for about a week due to an Al-Qaeda security alert.

Memories are still fresh of the deadly attack by Al-Qaeda linked militants on a US mission in Benghazi on September 11 last year when the ambassador, Chris Stevens, and three other US staff were killed.

An internal review blasted the State Department’s security arrangements at the Benghazi mission as woefully inadequate.

The evacuation was announced as US President Barack Obama presses Congress to authorize military strikes against Syria in response to an alleged August 21 chemical weapons attack Washington has blamed on the regime.

The potential strikes have raised the prospect of regional repercussions, including by Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah movement, which is allied with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“The potential in Lebanon for a spontaneous upsurge in violence remains. Lebanese government authorities are not able to guarantee protection for citizens or visitors to the country should violence erupt suddenly,” the State Department said in a statement Friday.

It warned there have also been a number of incidents on the Lebanon-Syria border in past months, and highlighted the threat posed by militant groups such as Hezbollah.

Washington’s Beirut embassy was the scene of a deadly suicide bombing in 1983 that killed 63 people mostly embassy staff, CIA agents, soldiers and Marines, in what was then the worst attack ever on a US mission. – Rappler.com

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