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 WASHINGTON, March 18, (Agencies): The Obama administration ordered the Syrian government on Tuesday to suspend its diplomatic and consular missions in the United States, requiring all personnel who are not legal US residents to leave the country. The order, three years after the start of Syria’s bloody civil war, essentially shutters the Syrian embassy in Washington and its honorary consulates in Troy, Michigan, and Houston, Texas. It comes in response to a decision by President Bashar Assad’s government to suspend consular services for Syrians living in the US. “We have determined it is unacceptable for individuals appointed by that regime to conduct diplomatic or consular operations in the United States,” US special envoy to Syria Daniel Rubenstein said in a statement.

However, Rubenstein said the US wants to continue diplomatic relations with Damascus, “as an expression of our longstanding ties with the Syrian people, an interest that will endure long after Bashar Assad leaves power.” “The United States will continue to assist those seeking change in Syria, to help end the slaughter, and to resolve the crisis through negotiations — for the benefit of the Syrian people,” Rubenstein said. More than 140,000 people have been killed in the war that began in March 2011 as an uprising against Assad’s government. It since has largely divided along sectarian lines, with a chaotic mix of mostly Sunni rebels pitted against Syria’s minorities, including Christians, Shiites and Alawites, who largely have sided with the government or remained neutral. Assad himself is part of the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam. Tuesday’s order should not affect Syria’s mission at the United Nations, although the State Department earlier this month already imposed restrictions limiting its ambassador to New York. Syrian-Americans had complained that Ambassador Bashar Jafari was seeking to divide their community by traveling around the United States on a propaganda tour in support of Assad’s government.

The State Department restrictions ban Jafari from traveling outside the five boroughs of New York City. Diplomats from several countries, including some of those listed as state sponsors of terrorism, are required to get approval before traveling outside a 25- mile (40-kms) radius of Manhattan. Meanwhile, Kuwait expressed on Tuesday its disenchantment with the findings of the report of the independent UN committee on fact-finding in Syria, showing alarming violations of human rights in that war-torn country. Speaking at the 25th session of the UN Human Rights Commission, Kuwait’s permanent representative to the UN in Geneva, Ambassador Jamal Al-Ghunaim said that “Kuwait condemns vehemently the continuing enormous human rights violations perpetrated by the Syrian regime against the Syrian people.” He urged the international community to “shoulder its responsibility” vis-‡-vis these violations, indicating that Kuwait has responded to the deteriorating human rights conditions in Syria by “hosting two international conferences in January 2013 and in January 2014 which were successful in mobilizing global relief aid for the people of Syria.” In the first conference Kuwait pledged $300 million and in the second $500 million toward humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people, said the ambassador, noting at the same time that Kuwaiti civil society organizations and Kuwaiti individuals have donated generously to that cause. He called on the donor countries who pledged aid in the second conference in Kuwait to rush their assistance to Syrians who are internally displaced or those who live in refugee camps in countries neighboring Syria. Al-Ghunaim underscored Kuwait’s hope for a cessation of hostilities in Syria and turning maximum efforts to address the disintegrating human rights conditions there, emphasizing at the same time the need to seek an amenable political settlement by, among other things, boosting the efforts exerted in that regard by the UN and Arab League representative to Syria Lakhdar Al-Ibrahimi. United Nations human rights investigators have added to their list of suspected war criminals from both sides in the Syrian civil war after a new round of atrocities in recent weeks, its head said on Tuesday. The UN inquiry has identified military units and security agencies as well as insurgent groups suspected of committing abuses, Paulo Pinheiro told the Human Rights Council. Four confidential lists of suspects on both sides have been drawn up to date. “This ‘perpetrators list’, as we call it, contains names of persons criminally responsible for hostage-taking, torture and executions,” said Pinheiro, a Brazilian chairing the inquiry. “It also contains names of the heads of intelligence branches and detention facilities where detainees are tortured, names of military commanders who target civilians, airports from which barrel bomb attacks are planned and executed, and armed groups involved in attacking and displacing civilians.”

In its update report, the UN commission of inquiry on Syria said the period of Jan 20 to March 10 was marked by escalating hostilities between insurgent groups throughout northern and northeastern provinces as Islamist rebel strongholds came under attack. Elsewhere, gunmen from Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group and local Shiite Muslim residents tightened their blockade of a Sunni town near the Syrian border Tuesday, sparking concerns that thousands of Syrian refugees stranded in the area could be cut off from humanitarian aid. The standoff outside of Arsal, a Sunni border town in eastern Lebanon that has become a haven for Syrian rebels, has further stoked sectarian tensions in Lebanon, where Sunnis and Shiites support opposing sides in the Syrian conflict.

Many Syrian rebels and refugees have fled to Arsal since President Bashar Assad’s troops and its Shiite Hezbollah allies on Sunday captured the rebel stronghold of Yabroud just across the border from Arsal. Over the weekend, gunmen closed off Arsal’s only road to the rest of Lebanon by erecting a sandbagged checkpoint manned by heavily armed Hezbollah gunmen and Shiites from a string of surrounding towns. The move came after the area’s Shiites blamed Arsal for rocket fire toward their villages in recent days and a car bombing that killed three people. On Tuesday, Shiite gunmen opened fire at vehicles from Arsal that tried to drive up toward the checkpoint, said the town’s deputy mayor, Ahmad Fliti. The shooting heightened despair within Arsal, a town of 40,000 Lebanese and 52,000 Syrian refugees for whom the road is a vital lifeline. Another 200 Syrian families have arrived in Arsal over the past few days, fleeing fighting as Syrian troops seized Yabroud, said Lisa Abu Khaled of the UN’s refugee agency. “Everybody needs help.

They need blankets and food. But we are currently facing a ticking bomb of contagious illnesses, a ticking bomb of hunger and a ticking bomb of people,” said Fliti. Lebanese aid organizations distributed a three-day emergency food supply to the neediest refugees on Monday, said the UN’s Abu Khaled said. But she stressed that tens of thousands more were left to rely on dwindling stocks within the town. “Assistance will definitely be hindered without the reopening of the road. What is available in Arsal won’t be enough,” she said. Lebanon has been rattled by a series of deadly car bombings that have largely targeted Shiite areas of Beirut, and missiles and rockets frequently hit border areas. But there were signs in the wake of Yabroud that anger among Lebanese Sunnis, many of whom resent Hezbollah’s dominance of local politics, is spiking, and the conflict could be seeping to other parts of Lebanon.

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