The US is preparing to close its embassy in Syria by the end of the month out of security concerns, says the Washington Post. Two suicide bombs killed 44 in December; Al Jazeera cites an unnamed US official who said that, unless the government of President Bashar al-Assad improves security, the embassy, which is located on a busy street in the Syrian capital, will close.
The official also said that, while it is possible that al-Qaeda members from Iraq or Syria may have carried out the attack, “the US government did not rule out the possibility that the Syrian government conducted the bombings itself.” The Washington Post comments:
If even a small number of Sunni extremists from Iraq have become involved in the Syrian conflict, it would add an alarming new dimension to what has been an overwhelmingly peaceful uprising that has been brutally attacked by the decades-old dictatorship.
Many Syrian opposition activists already are concerned about signs of a creeping Islamization of the revolt, and they have warned that the failure of the West to intervene will open the door to Islamists, threatening the kind of destabilization that took hold in Iraq following the U.S. invasion there.
In October, the US requested that family members of embassy staff depart and reduced staffing. Last week, with violence ongoing in Syria despite the presence of some 160 monitors as part of an Arab League mission, the US had further reduced its embassy staff. US Ambassador Robert Ford had been recalled back in October over concerns to his safety; he returned to Syria in December.
Closing the embassy would mean that US officials “would lose insight into events on the ground,” including direct contact with opposition figures. But shutting the embassy would also offer a “negative portrait of the security situation,” as Al Jazeera‘s John Hendren says. US officials have been in discussions with the Syrian government about increased security for the embassy but have so far received “no tangible results,” says the Washington Post.
Other Western and Arab embassies in Syria share the US’s concerns and have been reducing staff in recent weeks.
On Friday, which has been a day of protests since the uprising began in mid-March, only a lone policeman with a Kalashnikov stood across the street from the embassy. But other parts of Damascus felt as if “under siege,” with soldiers out in force near mosques, several major roads sealed off and checkpoints throughout the city.
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