More embassy closures amid ongoing Syria violence

Syrian army soldiers raid a building as they search for rebels in a suburb of Damascus, Syria, Tuesday, March 20, 2012. AP Photo

(CBS/AP) BEIRUT - Norway and Turkey have announced they are closing their embassies in Damascus, the latest two nations to withdraw diplomatic staff as the conflict in Syria enters its second year.

The Norwegian Foreign Ministry said it has decided to close down its embassy in Damascus due to security concerns, but that a Norwegian diplomat will continue to work in Syria through the Danish embassy, in order to "uphold contacts with political actors and report" on developments in Syria.

Also on Monday, Turkey closed its embassy in Damascus and recalled its ambassador as relations between the former allies continue to deteriorate. Ankara, once close to Damascus, is now one of Syria's most vocal critics.

About 17,000 Syrian refugees who have fled the violence are now in Turkey, many in temporary refugee camps. Turkey is also allowing Syrian civilian and army defectors to shelter and regroup on its territory.

Activities at the Turkish embassy are being "temporarily suspended," but Turkey's consulate in Aleppo will remain operational, a brief statement posted on the embassy's website said Sunday night.

The embassy is being closed because of the poor security situation in Syria, a ministry official said on condition of anonymity in line with ministry regulations. The Turkish ambassador and other diplomats will be returning to Turkey, he said.

Other countries - including the U.S., France, Saudi Arabia and Qatar - have also closed embassies. This and other forms of diplomatic pressure have left Damascus isolated, but have so far failed to stop the year-old Syria crisis, in which more than 8,000 people have been killed, according to the U.N.

Countries which have cut diplomatic relations with Syria:

The following nations have either closed their embassies in Damascus, or have recalled their ambassadors or diplomatic staff due to security reasons:

Bahrain
Canada
Egypt
Finland
France
Italy
Japan
Kuwait
The Netherlands
Norway
Oman
Qatar
Saudi Arabia
Spain
Switzerland
Turkey
United Arab Emirates
United Kingdom
United States

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Meanwhile, on Monday Syrian troops continued its shelling of rebel-held neighborhoods in Homs, the latest barrage in a bombardment that has lasted several days and appeared to be the groundwork for an assault to push the fighters out of the country's third largest city.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees have been reporting shelling in Homs for days as Assad's forces appear to be preparing for an operation to retake rebel-held neighborhoods in Syria's third largest city. The Observatory said that mortars were fired on the central neighborhood of Warsheh.

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