US evacuates Beirut staff ahead of Congress decision on Syria strike

Published September 6th, 2013 - 08:22 GMT
Lebanese soldiers block a road leading to the American embassy in eastern Beirut. (AFP)
Lebanese soldiers block a road leading to the American embassy in eastern Beirut. (AFP)

The U.S. State Department asked its non-emergency staff and their family members Friday to leave Lebanon, citing security concerns, as Washington readies for a potential military strike against the regime of President Bashar Assad in neighboring Syria.

“The Department of State drew down non-emergency personnel and family members from Embassy Beirut due to threats to U.S. Mission facilities and personnel,” a statement on the Embassy website said.

It also urged U.S. citizens to avoid all travel to Lebanon due to current safety and security concerns and for those in the country to prepare to depart at short notice.

“U.S. citizens living and working in Lebanon should understand that they accept risks in remaining and should carefully consider those risks,” the State Department said.

During talks with the new U.S. Ambassador to Beirut David Hale, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati hoped U.S. Embassy staff return to Beirut along with their families, saying security forces are taking the "necessary measures to guarantee the safety of diplomatic missions and foreign citizens in Lebanon."

In a separate statement, the State Department said it approved the drawdown of non-emergency personnel and family members who wish to leave Turkey’s Adana.

“Given the current tensions the region, as well as potential threats to U.S. Government facilities and personnel, we are taking these steps out of an abundance of caution to protect our employees and their families, and local employees and visitors to our facilities,” the State Department said.

President Barack Obama is seeking the authorization of Congress to launch a military strike against Syria in a bid to weaken Assad’s capabilities and punish the regime over its alleged use of chemical weapons.

Washington has accused Damascus of using poisonous gas against citizens on several occasions this year including the Aug. 21 attack in the Eastern Ghota suburb of Damascus. Syria has denied the allegations.

However, Obama is facing pressure from the international community to refrain from any such attack as Russia and Iran warn of a regional crisis in the event of a military strike against their Arab ally.

According to the statement on the Embassy website, the State Department said citizens in Lebanon should be aware that the embassy does not offer “protection” services for those who feel unsafe.

“The Embassy urges all U.S. citizens in Lebanon to monitor the media for the latest developments,” it said, adding that there were no plans to conduct a government-sponsored evacuation at this time which only occur “when no safe commercial alternatives exist.”

In the July-August 2006 war between Lebanon and Israel, the U.S. Embassy evacuated its citizens by sea.

According to a Wall Street Journal report Friday, unidentified U.S. officials said they were on alert for Iran's fleet of small, fast boats in the Persian Gulf amid fears Hezbollah could attack the American Embassy in Beirut in retaliation for any U.S. strike against Assad’s regime.

The report added that the State Department had begun preparing for potential reprisals against American missions in the Middle East and North Africa a week ago.

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