Britain urges citizens to leave Syria 'now'

LONDON, June 18, 2011 (AFP) - Britain urged its nationals on Saturday to leave Syria "now" by commercial means, warning that its embassy in Damascus would unlikely be able to help them if the situation deteriorates further.

"British nationals should leave now by commercial means whilst these are still operating," the Foreign Office said in updated travel advice.

"Those who choose to remain in Syria, or to visit against our advice, should be aware that it is highly unlikely that the British embassy in Damascus would be able to provide a normal consular service in the event of a further breakdown in law and order and increased violent civil disorder.

"Evacuation options would be limited because of likely communication and travel restrictions."

Britain urged its nationals on April 20 to consider leaving Syria, but has stepped up its advice amid escalating violence in the Middle Eastern country, where anti-regime protests have sparked a bloody crackdown by security forces.

"It is important that British nationals in Syria maintain a close watch on the situation and take responsibility for their own safety and security, making contingency plans accordingly," a Foreign Office spokeswoman added.

"Our advice is very clear, because of the current situation, we advise against all travel to Syria. We ask British nationals to heed this advice and leave the country now."

The Foreign Office could not immediately give details on how many British nationals were still in Syria.

The violence has claimed the lives of nearly 1,300 civilians and 340 security force members since mid-March, according the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

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