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Syria, Russia criticise US over embassy closure

  • The closed Syrian embassy is pictured in Washington on March 18, 2014. The US closed down Syria's embassy in Washington and ordered its remaining diplomatic staff to leave the country if they were not US citizens. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad

DAMASCUS: Syria denounced as illegal Wednesday Washington's decision to close its embassy, while Russia said the move meant the United States had renounced its role as a peace sponsor.

Their remarks came as Damascus said Israeli air raids on Syrian territory earlier Wednesday had killed a soldier and wounded seven others, warning that they endangered regional security.

Meanwhile, Syrian state media said troops were advancing in the Qalamoun region near the Lebanese border after capturing the rebel stronghold Yabrud on Sunday.

Syria's foreign ministry accused Washington of a "clear violation" of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations with Tuesday's decision to close Syria's embassy and two consulates, saying it was an "arbitrary measure".

The decision "reveals the real objectives of US policy against the interests of Syrian citizens and is another step in the US support for terrorism and bloodshed in Syria", a ministry statement added.

The United States said it was closing Syria's embassy in Washington and consulates in Michigan and Texas and expelling remaining Syrian diplomatic staff.

Secretary of State John Kerry said the decision was taken because "the illegitimacy of the Assad regime is so overwhelming".

"So we just felt the idea that this embassy is sitting here with representation that we could take seriously is an insult, and we closed it. It's that simple."

Moscow also criticised the US decision, viewing it with "concern and disappointment."

"By making such a unilateral move, our American partners in essence are depriving themselves of the role of cosponsor of the process of political regulation in Syria," the foreign ministry said.

Russia accused Washington of "playing into the hands of the hard-core Syrian opposition", and said it went against a 2012 international accord on a political transition in Syria.

It also said Washington was prioritising regime change over the tasks of destroying Syria's chemical weapons and helping the country's people.

"Resolving these without direct cooperation with the Syrian government is impossible," the statement said.

Syria's embassy had been operating for some time without its ambassador, who left the country in December 2011.

The measures will not affect Syria's mission to the United Nations, though Washington announced last month that it would limit the movements of Syria's ambassador there to a 25-mile (40-kilometre) radius from New York City.

The diplomatic spat came as Damascus said Israeli raids early Wednesday had killed one soldier and wounded seven others in the Quneitra region.

"We warn that these desperate attempts to escalate and exacerbate the situation in these circumstances by repeating these acts of aggression would endanger the security and stability of the region," the army command said.

The early morning air strikes took place 12 hours after four soldiers patrolling the Israeli side of the ceasefire line were wounded, one severely, by a roadside bomb.

It was the third such incident in two weeks along Israel's northern frontier, with Israeli military officials accusing the Syrian army of complicity in the attack.

Elsewhere on the ground, Syrian state media said the army had seized a small village in the Qalamoun region, where it is trying to sever rebel supply lines across the nearby Lebanese border.

"Army units took over Ras al-Ain, southwest of Yabrud, killing a large number of terrorists," state news agency SANA said, using the regime's term for the opposition.

The takeover of Ras al-Ain comes four days after the fall of Yabrud, the last major rebel stronghold in the area.

In southern Syria, meanwhile, rebels seized the central prison in Daraa province, freeing scores of prisoners, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

And regime planes carried out air raids on the town of Qudsaya, northwest of Damascus, despite a months-long truce, killing at least eight people, the Observatory said.

A security source denied to AFP that there had been any air strikes.

More than 146,000 people have been killed in Syria's war, and nearly half of the population has been displaced.

 
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Summary

Syria denounced as illegal Wednesday Washington's decision to close its embassy, while Russia said the move meant the United States had renounced its role as a peace sponsor.

Syria's foreign ministry accused Washington of a "clear violation" of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations with Tuesday's decision to close Syria's embassy and two consulates, saying it was an "arbitrary measure".

The United States said it was closing Syria's embassy in Washington and consulates in Michigan and Texas and expelling remaining Syrian diplomatic staff.

Syria's embassy had been operating for some time without its ambassador, who left the country in December 2011 .

The measures will not affect Syria's mission to the United Nations, though Washington announced last month that it would limit the movements of Syria's ambassador there to a 25-mile (40-kilometre) radius from New York City.

More than 146,000 people have been killed in Syria's war, and nearly half of the population has been displaced.


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