WASHINGTON - The State Department is telling American citizens to leave Syria as soon as they can and is ordering personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Damascus to leave the country, as the Syrian government steps up a brutal crackdown against pro-reform demonstrators.
The department late Monday urged Americans to defer all travel to Syria, and advised those already in the country to get out while commercial transportation is still available.
It also ordered some nonessential U.S. embassy staff and the families of all embassy personnel to leave Syria.
It said the embassy would remain open for limited services.
The warning said that Syrian government restrictions, including the short-term detention of foreign diplomats, made it difficult for the embassy to assess the security situation and that attempts by authorities to blame the unrest on outsiders could contribute to anti-foreigner sentiment.
The embassy also warned of Syrian efforts to blame the current unrest on foreign sources. "Detained U.S. citizens may find themselves subject to allegations of incitement or espionage," it said.
The move came as thousands of Syrian soldiers backed by tanks and snipers moved in to the southern city of Daraa and opened fire on civilians, killing at least 11 people, witnesses said.
More than 350 people have been killed in the violence since mid-March.