Safety and Security:
The Department of State continues to warn U.S. citizens against travel to Syria and strongly recommends that U.S. citizens remaining in Syria depart immediately. The Syrian regime has used deadly force to quell anti-government protests and is engaged in a full-scale civil war with the armed Syrian opposition. Syrian opposition groups have utilized car bombs, improvised explosive device/indirect-fire attacks, sniper fire, and kidnappings throughout the country. Foreign combatants – including Iranian regime elements, Hizballah fighters, Islamic extremists, and al Qaida-linked elements – are participating in hostilities. Military operations have involved the use of ballistic missiles, aerial attacks, and heavy artillery against civilian centers. Attacks from these various groups could happen with little or no warning, no part of Syria should be considered immune from violence, and the potential exists throughout the country for unpredictable and hostile acts, including kidnappings, sniper assaults, terrorist attacks, large and small-scale bombings, as well as arbitrary arrest, detention, and torture.
The United States intelligence community assesses with high confidence that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, on a small scale against the opposition multiple times over the past year. The continuing violence, deteriorating security situation, and Syria’s chemical and biological weapons program creates a particularly volatile situation. The security situation throughout the country is very likely to remain volatile and unpredictable for the foreseeable future, with some areas, especially in the contested population centers, experiencing substantially increased levels of violence. The conflict has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths with many thousands wounded, 1.6 million refugees and over four million internally displaced persons.
Thereis an ongoing and increased risk of kidnapping of U.S. citizens and Westerners in general throughout the country. In August 2012, a U.S. citizenjournalist was kidnapped near Damascus and in November 2012, another U.S. citizenjournalist was kidnapped in Idlib Governorate; the status of these U.S. citizens is unknown at thistime. In early April 2013, an Italian journalist was kidnapped, and in late April 2013, two Orthodox Christian Bishops were abducted in the northern city of Aleppo. It is unknown if regime forces or opposition elements conducted these kidnappings. Most recently, on June 7, two French journalists were taken in Aleppo. Since the start of the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime in March 2011, at least 24 foreigners, primarily journalists, have been reportedly kidnapped or killed in the fighting
A porous border with Iraq and long-standing border issues with Iraq,Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Israel, have contributed to a complex security environment in Syria, which has been compounded by the protracted violent conflict and an influx of foreign fighters. There have been multiple reports of Syrian shelling of neighboring countries’ border areas throughout 2012 and 2013, most significantly in Lebanon, Turkey, and the Golan Heights. On October 3, 2012, Syrian military forces fired artillery shells that hit the town of Akcakale on the Turkish side of the Turkish-Syrian border, killing five people and wounding a number of others. Turkey responded with retaliatory artillery fire and cross-border incidents have continued sporadically since that time. Likely linked to the regime offensive in al Qusayr, indirect fire has crossed into Lebanon on several occasions, illustrating the continued potential for spillover of Syria’s conflict throughout the region.
Syria has been a State Sponsor of Terrorism since 1979 and has given political support to a variety of terrorist groups affecting the stability of the region. The Al-Nusrah Front has claimed responsibility for numerous terrorist acts in Syria since December 2011, including four bombings in Aleppo on October 3, 2012 that killed more than 50 people and a October 9, 2012 suicide bomb attack on a Syrian Air Force Intelligence compound in a Damascus suburb that killed and wounded at least 100, including civilians.
Terrorists often do not distinguish between U.S. government personnel and private U.S. citizens. Terrorists may target areas frequented by Westerners, such as tourist sites, hotels, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and other frequently visited areas. U.S. citizens are urged to maintain a high level of vigilance and be aware of their surroundings. It is especially important for travelers to be unpredictable in their movements by varying times and routes and maintaining a low profile.
While most Syrians appear genuinely friendly towards foreigners, underlying tensions can lead to a quick escalation in the potential for violence. Elements within both the regime, as well as opposition groups, maintain anti-American or anti-Western sentiment, which may intensify following significant events in the region, particularly those related to U.S.-Syria relations, international intervention in the ongoing conflict, Israeli-Palestinian issues, the status of Jerusalem, and clashes in Lebanon.
U.S. citizens traveling through the area should remain aware that pre-existing tensions and instabilities continue to exist and U.S. interests and citizens might be targeted. On July 11, 2011, the U.S. Embassy and other embassies in Damascus were violently attacked by people participating in a pro-government demonstration. Similarly, in October 2011, the U.S. Ambassador’s convoy was attacked in a Damascus suburb while he met with an opposition figure. Both indicidents caused significant property damage.
Security personnel frequently place foreign visitors under surveillance. Hotel rooms, internet connections, telephones, and fax machines may be monitored, and personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched. Taking photographs of anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest may result in questioning, detention and/or confiscation of the images. Additionally, U.S. citizens should be aware that conversations on the topics of politics, religion and other social issues could lead to arrest. It is also illegal in Syria to possess specific-use electronic devices including GPS, short-wave or handheld radio equipment, or similar devices.
U.S. citizens should increase their vigilance if they travel to the border area with Iraq or Israel, the Golan Heights, or the Al-Jazira region. Movements in these areas are subject to Syrian security surveillance and could lead to questioning or detention.