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US orders embassy staff out of Lebanon, warns travelers

The State Department ordered non-emergency personnel and their family members to leave the U.S. Embassy in Beirut Friday.
Beirut Diplomat Security - 09/06/2013
Lebanese and Syrian protesters wave the Syrian flag and hold pictures of President Bashar al-Assad (L) during a protest organised by the Baath party outside...

UPDATED at 10:30 a.m. -  The State Department ordered non-emergency personnel and their family members to leave the U.S. Embassy in Beirut Friday, and told Americans to avoid travel to Lebanon due to a threat to the diplomatic post. It also warned U.S. citizens in Turkey to be on alert for potential violence and said non-essential employees at the U.S. Consulate General in Adana, Turkey, could also leave.

The travel warning references the civil war in neighboring Syria, the terrorist group Hezbollah, and general "anti-Western terrorist activity" in its statement.

"The ongoing conflict in Syria has also resulted in numerous security incidents between the border regions between Lebanon and Syria and coincides with an increasing number of security incidents around the country,"  the American travel warning read.

The warning comes as President Obama makes the case for a U.S. military strike on the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad who is accused of gassing his own people in a chemical attack that the U.S. says killed nearly 1,500. The U.S. Congress is expected to debate the administration's request to authorize military action in Syria next week.

"The potential in Lebanon for a spontaneous upsurge in violence remains. Lebanese government authorities are not able to guarantee protection for citizens or visitors to the country should violence erupt suddenly," the State Department warning on Lebanon continued. "Access to borders, airports, roads, and seaports can be interrupted with little or no warning. Public demonstrations occur frequently with little warning and have the potential to become violent. Family, neighborhood, or sectarian disputes often escalate quickly and can lead to gunfire or other violence with little or no warning. The ability of U.S. government personnel to reach travelers or provide emergency services may be severely limited."

Earlier this month the United States shuttered about two dozen American posts in the Middle East and Africa due to a terrorist threat.

Obama discussed the situation in Syria with other world leaders Thursday night at a dinner in St. Petersburg, Russia, during the G-20 economic summit. He continued to press for international support on a "limited" military strike in order to hold Assad responsible for the Aug. 21 chemical weapons use, which the administration has said threatens the U.S. and allies' security and violates international norms.

"The Assad’s regime’s brazen use of chemical weapons isn’t just a Syrian tragedy, it’s a threat to global peace and security," Obama said during a press conference Friday. "Syria’s escalating use of chemical weapons threatens its neighbors...It threatens to further destabilize the Middle East, it increases the risk that these weapons will fall into the hands of terrorist groups."

The president said the "majority" of world leaders at the summit were comfortable with the conclusion that the Assad regime had used chemical weapons.

However Russia President Vladimir Putin, host to this year's G-20, continues to dispute the evidence, Obama said. The two presidents met one-on-one along the sidelines of the summit in what Obama called a "candid and constructive" discussion of Syria.

"We understood each other, we listened to each other...we didn't agree with each other's arguments but we could hear them," Putin during a separate press conference Friday. "We tried to find an agreement towards a peaceful settlement of this crisis."

The White House canceled a separate one-on-one meeting between Obama and Putin that was scheduled to happen prior to the summit's kickoff on Thursday after Russia granted temporary asylum to former National Security Agency contractor turned secret-spiller Edward Snowden.