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BEIRUT -- Citing unspecified possible threats to U.S. personnel, the State Department moved Friday to reduce its diplomatic presence in Lebanon and Turkey, two nations bordering war-torn Syria.
The decision comes as the White House is contemplating an attack on Syria because of that nation’s alleged use of chemical weapons. The Syrian government denies U.S. allegations that its military carried out a deadly poison-gas attack last month in the suburbs of Damascus, the capital.
U.S. authorities ordered a drawdown of “non-emergency” personnel and family members from Lebanon and from the consul general’s office in Adana, in southeastern Turkey, close to that country's border with Syria.
“Given the current tensions [in] the region, as well as potential threats to U.S. government facilities and personnel, we are taking these steps out of an abundance of caution to protect our employees and their families, and local employees and visitors to our facilities,” the State Department said in a statement. “We will continue to assess the situation and to adjust our security posture accordingly.”
No details were provided about any prospective threats.
The State Department also recommended that U.S. citizens remaining in Lebanon and southeastern Turkey “should limit nonessential travel” and “make their own contingency emergency plans.”
Both Lebanon and Turkey have experienced episodes of crossover violence from the war in Syria. Both nations also host hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria.
In Lebanon, with its fragile, multi-sectarian democracy, officials have expressed grave concern about the destabilizing effects of the protracted Syrian conflict, now in its third year.
Citizens of Lebanon and Turkey are deeply split about the Syrian war, which pits armed rebels against the government of President Bashar Assad.
The Lebanese government has officially adopted a neutral stance, though many Lebanese back one side or the other fighting in Syria. The Turkish government has openly called for Assad to step down and has provided substantial aid to anti-government rebels operating inside Syria.
Washington says security at embassies and other diplomatic missions has been reviewed and bolstered following a militant attack last year in Benghazi, Libya, that took the lives of four U.S. citizens, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.
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