US mulling closure of embassy in Syria

The US State Department said Friday it is considering closing its embassy in Damascus over growing safety concerns as the death toll mounts in the Syrian regime's crackdown on pro-democracy protests.

"We have serious concerns about the deteriorating security situation in Damascus, including the recent spate of car bombs, and about the safety and security of embassy personnel," it said in a statement.

Suicide car bombers hit two security service bases in Damascus on December 23, killing 44 people, in attacks the regime of President Bashar al-Assad blamed on Al-Qaeda but which the opposition said were the work of the regime itself.

"We have requested that the government of Syria take additional security measures to protect our embassy, and the Syrian government is considering that request," the State Department said.

"We have also advised the Syrian government that unless concrete steps are taken in the coming days we may have no choice but to close the mission," the statement said.

But it added that no final decision has been made.

Officials declined to say how the State Department had communicated its concerns to Syria or what steps it had asked Damascus to take.

On January 11, the State Department said it would further reduce the number of staff at its embassy in Damascus, updating a warning in October in which embassy staff were restricted and family members asked to leave.

In December, the US ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, returned to Damascus, where he has championed protesters facing a deadly crackdown, after he was abruptly pulled out in October due to threats.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Friday the US government was also looking into reports of the possible arrest of US citizen Abdelkader Chaar in the Syrian city of Aleppo on January 8.

"We've been in contact with Syrian authorities and have requested confirmation of the arrest and requested consular access. We have not yet had a response to those requests," Nuland said.

Abdelkadar Chaar, 22, was born in Syracuse, New York, moved to Aleppo with his parents when he was a boy and is currently a medical student at Aleppo University, his uncle Sam Chaar was quoted as telling CNN.

He was arrested on January 8 but authorities did not give his family a reason, according to his uncle.

In its travel warnings, the State Department has urged all US citizens to avoid travel to Syria and urged citizens who are currently there to depart immediately while transportation is still available.

US President Barack Obama has called on Assad to quit power over his regime's bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protests that UN officials say has now left more than 5,000 people dead.

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