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Middle East

US bolsters embassy security in Lebanon and Turkey due to threats ahead of Congress vote on Syria strike

State department ordered 'nonessential' diplomatic staff to leave mission in Beirut

The US has tightened security at its diplomatic missions in both Lebanon and Turkey following threats.

The State Department has said it has ordered “nonessential” staff and their family members from its embassy in the Lebanese capital Beirut to leave the country, as Congress debates a military strike on neighbouring Syria.

It has also offered to evacuate those in Adana in south eastern Turkey.

A statement on the Beirut embassy's website said that the State Department “drew down non-emergency personnel and family members from [the embassy] due to threats to US Mission facilities and personnel.

The department has also issued a travel warning to American citizens against traveling in Lebanon and south eastern Turkey.

It has also urged Americans in the rest of Turkey "to be alert to the potential for violence".

The moves had been under consideration since last week, the Associated Press reports, when President Barack Obama stated he was contemplating military action against the regime of Bashar al-Assad for its alleged chemical weapons attack last month.

The administration said the attack had killed more than 1,400 people near Syria's capital Damascus.

“We will continue to assess the situation and to adjust our security posture accordingly,” deputy State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said.

“The potential in Lebanon for a spontaneous upsurge in violence remains,” the department's travel warning said.

“Lebanese government authorities are not able to guarantee protection for citizens or visitors to the country should violence erupt suddenly. Access to borders, airports, roads, and seaports can be interrupted with little or no warning,” the statement said.

“Public demonstrations occur frequently with little warning and have the potential to become violent. Family, neighborhood, or sectarian disputes often escalate quickly and can lead to gunfire or other violence with little or no warning.”

Hezbollah, an ally of the Syrian president that has sent fighters into Syria, is based in Lebanon.

The State Department said that the militant Shia organisation “maintains a strong presence in parts of the southern suburbs of Beirut, portions of the Bekaa Valley and areas in South Lebanon.”

“The situation remains tense, and sporadic violence involving Hezbollah or other extremist or criminal organizations remains a possibility in many areas of the country,” it said.

No firm date has yet been set for the congressional vote as President Obama continues to seek support for his strike plans.

The House of Representatives, the lower house of the US Congress, is controlled by the Republicans, who have yet to agree on the text of a resolution, The Guardian reports.

Last month the US closed 19 embassies and consulates across Africa and the Middle East for over a week after a terrorist threat.