UN pulling staff from Syria; violence near capital

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Associated Press

Posted on December 3, 2012 at 3:34 PM

BEIRUT (AP) — There's been heavy fighting today near the Syrian capital of Damascus. Violence near the airport caused Egyptian officials to turn around a flight that was headed from Cairo to the Syrian capital. They'd heard that the area around the airport was unsafe.

Officials say EgyptAir has canceled all further flights to Syria today and tomorrow, and will decide later whether to resume flights later in the week.

The U.N., meanwhile, says it is withdrawing most of its international staff from Syria due to security issues. It says up to a quarter of the 100 international staff working for several U.N. agencies could leave by week's end. There are another 900 local staffers working for the U.N. in Syria.

There's also word that a Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman who had become known for defending the regime of Bashar Assad in fluent English has flown from Beirut to London. But it's not clear yet whether the spokesman has defected.

The fighting over the past few weeks in and around Damascus has been the most serious in the capital since July. That's when rebels captured several neighborhoods, before a government counter-offensive swept them out.

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