Switzerland shuts embassy in Damascus

ZURICH Thu Mar 1, 2012 2:17pm IST

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ZURICH (Reuters) - The Swiss government said on Thursday it had formally closed its embassy in Damascus, three weeks after shutting it temporarily, after urging Swiss citizens to leave the country and recalling its ambassador last August for consultations.

Switzerland announced the closure as the U.N.-Arab League Syria envoy, Kofi Annan, prepared to visit Damascus to ask President Bashar al-Assad to engage with efforts to end the mounting turmoil in his country.

In November Switzerland urged the roughly 180 Swiss citizens living in Syria to leave the country at once. Late on Wednesday, it said about 150 of them remain there, mostly people with dual citizenship living in Damascus.

What began nearly a year ago as peaceful protests against Assad's rule has, after months of forceful repression, turned into an armed insurrection by army deserters who refused to fire on unarmed fellow Syrians.

Elite government troops pounded a rebel bastion in the city of Homs on Thursday, stepping up their offensive after more than three weeks of siege and bombardment, activists said.

A senior official in the rebel Free Syrian Army told Reuters rebels in the Baba Amro district of Homs were fending off more than 7,000 government troops.

(Reporting By Katharina Bart; Editing by Tim Pearce)

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