/ 29 October 2008

US embassy in Syria may close to the public

The United States may close its embassy in Damascus to the public due to fears of violence, a US spokesperson said on Wednesday, as tension rose between the two countries following a US raid on Syria.

A demonstration is planned in Damascus on Thursday to protest against the raid that Syria says killed eight civilians.

Syria also ordered an American school and cultural centre to be shut down in an apparent response to the US action on Sunday.

Relations between Washington and Damascus are already strained by US accusations that Syria is failing to stop militants, including al-Qaeda fighters, from entering Iraq.

”The American community in Syria should be aware that unforeseen events or circumstances may occur that could cause the US embassy in Damascus to close to the public for an unspecified period of time,” an embassy spokesperson said.

”The US embassy in Damascus remains concerned about the continued threat of terrorist attacks, demonstrations and other violent actions against US citizens,” he said.

The spokesperson declined to comment on whether the number or status of US diplomats in Syria could change.

The demonstration planned for Thursday is to be staged by groups describing themselves as independent. The US says a smuggler of foreign fighters into Iraq was believed to have been killed in the attack.

Diplomats said the crisis could escalate into tit-for-tat retaliation if the protest turns violent. But a source familiar with the planning for the event said it will be held away from the embassy.

”There are no plans to march on the embassy. An American flag may be set alight but the protest will be peaceful,” the source said. — Reuters