The UK has withdrawn its diplomatic staff from Syria and closed the embassy in Damascus on security grounds, Foreign Secretary William Hague has announced.
Ambassador Simon Collis and his staff left Syria yesterday after it was decided the “deterioration in the security situation” had put their safety at risk.
The decision to suspend operations in Damascus comes after Mr Hague urged those fighting for President Bashar Assad’s regime to lay down their arms.
In a written statement to Parliament, Mr Hague stressed the decision to withdraw embassy staff “in no way reduces the UK’s commitment to active diplomacy to maintain pressure on the Assad regime to end the violence”.
Mr Hague said: ``We have maintained an embassy in Damascus despite the violence to help us communicate with all parties in Syria and to provide insight into the situation on the ground.
“Throughout this time we have kept the security situation of our staff and embassy premises under intense and constant review.
“We now judge that the deterioration of the security situation in Damascus puts our embassy staff and premises at risk and have taken the decision to withdraw staff accordingly.
“Our ambassador and diplomatic staff left Syria on February 29 and will return to the UK shortly.
“British nationals who remain in Syria despite our long-standing and consistent message to leave the country should contact the embassy of any remaining EU member state if they require consular assistance.”
Mr Hague said the UK would continue to work with the opposition Syrian National Council and support UN and Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan’s work.
Yesterday Mr Hague warned that Syrian soldiers would be held to account if they turned their weapons on their fellow countrymen in the expected assault on Homs.
Mr Hague said he was “appalled” at reports that Assad is preparing a full-scale onslaught on the city, which has become a stronghold of dissent against his regime.
He urged Assad to call off any such plans and instead to allow access for humanitarian agencies.
Britain also condemned the refusal by Damascus to allow the United Nations humanitarian affairs and emergency relief co-ordinator Baroness Valerie Amos into the country to assess the scale of suffering caused by the violence.
Responding to reports that troops loyal to Assad were advancing on Homs, Mr Hague said: “I call on those Syrians who are being ordered to attack their fellow citizens to make a choice and to lay down their arms. Those who do not do so will be held to account for their actions.
“Britain will continue to do all it can to bring the greatest possible pressure to bear on the Assad regime until it ceases the violence and repression which is doomed to fail. We will work with the Arab League to ensure a Syrian-led political transition that brings an end to this terrible crisis.”