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US Evacuates 'Non-Emergency' Personnel from Middle East - 2003-03-17

The United States has ordered the departure of non-essential diplomatic personnel and all diplomatic family members from Syria, Kuwait and Israel. Private U.S. citizens in those countries are being urged by the State Department to depart immediately.

In a sign that hostilities in Iraq could be imminent, the United States is evacuating what are termed "non-emergency" embassy employees and the dependents of all American diplomats from Israel, Syria and Kuwait.

Word of the decision, affecting hundreds of U.S. officials and family members, came in similarly worded travel warnings for the countries issued late Sunday by the State Department, which "strongly urged" U.S. private citizens currently there to leave immediately.

The statements attributed the decision to threat of military action in Iraq, and said that in the event of a war, there is a risk that Iraq or terrorist organizations may use chemical or biological weapons.

The State Department said the American embassies in Damascus, Kuwait City and Tel Aviv, and the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem, which tends to U.S. diplomatic affairs in the Palestinian areas, will remain open though some services could be curtailed.