U.S. And U.K. Withdraw Diplomats From Syria
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The U.S. shut down its embassy in the Syrian capital Damascus today, and Britain recalled its ambassador. U.S. officials say they did not believe the Syrian government was taking proper steps to assure the safety of the Americans. An anti-government uprising there is turning increasingly violent. As NPR's Kelly McEvers reports from Beirut, government forces stepped up attacks in areas where anti-government groups had maintained some control.
KELLY MCEVERS, BYLINE: Activists and witnesses in the Syrian city of Homs say the latest government bombardment started overnight. They say government forces used tanks, mortars and even rockets to target areas of the city that had been under the effective control of the rebels.
Government forces still surround the city of Homs, but rebels had set up their own checkpoints and field hospitals in certain neighborhoods. Now, activists and witnesses say those neighborhoods are under siege. Syrian activist Danny Abdul Dayem(ph) describes what he saw in a field hospital in the Homs neighborhood of Bab Amr earlier today.
DANNY ABDUL DAYEM: Bodies, pieces of bodies, children, women, men, dead people - the rockets killed them in their houses. One of my friend's dad died by a sniper. He just wanted a pen to write on the cover of his dad.
MCEVERS: Dayem and other witnesses say government forces later bombed the field hospital.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking foreign language).
MCEVERS: This video provided by activists shows one medic pointing to other medics and volunteers he says were injured or killed by the blast. Government forces also stepped up their campaign in the town of Zabadani, which is much closer to Syria's capital, Damascus, and has also been under effective rebel control for the past week at least.
Analysts here in the region say the Syrian government has been emboldened by the fact that Russia and China vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the Syrian regime for using violence on its own people. That resolution also supported an Arab League initiative calling for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to delegate power to a deputy. The U.S. and Europe have sharply criticized Russia and China for standing with Assad.
Explaining why the U.S. closed its embassy in Syria, U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland today said the Assad regime is partly to blame.
VICTORIA NULAND: Our concern is that the situation in and around Damascus is becoming increasingly violent, reflecting the fact that the regime is increasingly losing control of the situation because itself has resorted to violence rather than dialogue.
MCEVERS: Analysts say European countries are likely to close their embassies too. They also say the violence in Syria could soon spin out of control. Many Syrian activists are now saying it's time for all protesters to take up arms, and for countries that support their movement, to supply them with those arms. That said, when the shelling in one district of Homs let up for a while today, many residents took to the streets to protest.
Kelly McEvers, NPR News, Beirut.
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