US urges its citizens to leave Syria

Israel’s ex-FM: West has shown willingness to ‘coexist with tyranny.’

By OREN KESSLER
April 5, 2011 03:45
2 minute read.
Syrians shout "freedom" during a protest

Syrian protests. (photo credit: REUTERS/Khaled al-Hariri)

 
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The United States has advised US citizens in Syria to consider leaving because of the unrest there, offering free flights out of the country to family members of US government employees, the State Department said Sunday.

The US travel warning on Syria is the third issued in less than two weeks. The department urged citizens to defer nonessential travel, AP reported, and advised Americans against all travel to Latakia, Deraa and nearby towns and villages.

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It also reminded US citizens “that even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence.”

The department said it is urging US citizens to avoid demonstrations, if possible, and to exercise caution if demonstrations are being held nearby, warning of a possible increase in “anti-foreigner sentiment.”

“Detained US citizens may find themselves subject to allegations of incitement or espionage,” the statement read.

The government said Syrian authorities do not notify the US of the arrest of a US citizen until days or weeks afterward, and requests for consular access go unanswered, especially in the case of those detained for “security” reasons.

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Last week, the United States advised its citizens to put off nonessential travel to Syria and urged those already in the country to consider leaving because of the protests, which followed popular revolts elsewhere in the Arab world.

On Monday, Syrian authorities released prominent human rights defender Suhair al-Atassi, one of her lawyers said. Atassi, who was dragged by her hair and arrested in Marjeh Square in Damascus during the March 16 silent protest to demand the release of political prisoners, was released just before midnight on Sunday, the lawyer said.

The unrest in Syria has presented the gravest challenge to the 11-year rule of President Bashar Assad, who assumed power after the death of his father, Hafez, in 2000. The United States has long had a contentious relationship with Syria, which maintains an anti- Israel alliance with Iran and supports Hezbollah and Hamas.

A former Israeli foreign minister, Shlomo Ben-Ami, wrote Monday: “A sad lesson of the West’s duplicity with regard to democratic reform in the Arab world, which both Syria and Iran have been happy to embrace, is that pro-Western moderate leaders who gave ground to pro-democracy protesters ended up being swept away, while those who brutally crushed their opponents are hanging on.

“The West, after all, never put irresistible pressure on any Arab regime to undertake reforms, and deserted its autocratic clients in Tunisia and Egypt only when they failed to nip the revolutionary bud.

“The lesson is that the West will coexist with tyranny, provided that it is swiftly and efficiently repressive,” wrote Ben- Ami, now vice president of the Toledo International Center for Peace, on the Project Syndicate website.

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