WASHINGTON -- The State Department on Monday told American citizens to leave Syria as soon as they can and ordered some personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Damascus to depart the country, as the Syrian government steps up a brutal crackdown against pro-reform demonstrators.
In a new warning, the department urged Americans to defer all travel to Syria, advised those already in the country to depart while commercial transportation is available and to limit nonessential travel within the country. Nonessential U.S. embassy staff and the families of all embassy personnel have been ordered to leave Syria. It said the embassy would remain open for limited services.
The warning said that Syrian government restrictions, including the short-term detention of foreign diplomats, made it difficult for the embassy to assess the security situation and that attempts by authorities to blame the unrest on outsiders could contribute to anti-foreigner sentiment.
The move came as thousands of Syrian soldiers backed by tanks and snipers moved in to the southern city of Daraa and opened fire on civilians, killing at least 11 people, witnesses said. More than 350 people have been killed in the violence since mid-March.