Pak shuts embassy in Syrian capital; evacuates staff



Islamabad: Pakistan has closed its embassy in Damascus and evacuated the staff amid fading hopes for a diplomatic solution to the Syrian crisis. "Two local staff members have been left to look after the embassy premises," an unnamed Pakistani diplomat posted in Damascus was quoted as saying by the Dawn after his return.

Twenty-six embassy staffers and their families were evacuated via Lebanon because of intense fighting around the highway leading to Damascus airport between rebels and troops loyal to President Bashar Al Assad, the paper reported.

The diplomat said the Foreign Office would review the situation after three months to decide about reopening the mission.

About 40 Pakistani nationals stayed back and turned down the embassy's offer of help for being repatriated.

A couple of Pakistani workers in Damascus are believed to have been kidnapped by the rebel "Free Syrian Army."

Reports have said a number of Pakistani militants have allegedly sneaked into Syria from Turkey and joined the rebel forces.

Most of the 69 foreign missions in Damascus have stopped operations, some because of security concerns and others for snubbing the Assad government. Though the city has witnessed several terror attacks during the 20-month rebellion, it was last week that the fighting got closer to it.

Pakistan has been treading a fine line over the Syrian crisis, the report said. Islamabad has criticised human rights abuses by the Syrian government while at the same time not endorsing rebels sponsored by governments having cordial relations with Pakistan, he said.

Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said at an Organisation of Islamic Conference (IOC) Foreign Ministers' meeting last month that "democratic aspirations of the people of Syria can only be achieved in an enabling environment of peace."

PTI