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Us staff leave israel { February 11 2003 }

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Tuesday, February 11, 2003 Adar1 9, 5763
U.S. starts sending staff out of country

By Yossi Melman

The U.S. State Department announced yesterday that it would start evacuating non-essential personnel and diplomats' families from Israel later this week, with a U.S.-led war against Iraq looming.

A senior U.S. Embassy source in Tel Aviv told Haaretz that the non-essential staff and diplomats' families have been on "authorized departure status" since Friday, when the State Department advised dependents and all but essential diplomats to leave Israel, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. The source said that it would be decided who would leave following consultations in the embassy.

"All non-essential staff and their families are on authorized departure status," he said, "which means that they are allowed to leave if they want to. Those who do leave will be leaving on regular commercial flights."

The U.S. Embassy does not publish information about the number of its staff members but various estimates say there are perhaps 500 staff and family members. The source said that he did not have any information on the number of people who would be leaving in the first group, but about one-third of the total number are expected to depart in all.

The embassy will remain open for normal operations despite the departures, the official said. Ambassador Dan Kurtzer said that he would remain in Israel under any circumstances, even if Israel is attacked.

Citing "increased security concerns", the State Department said on Friday it had decided to offer embassy dependents and non-emergency staff in Israel, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon free flights home - known as an "authorized departure." Similar steps were taken before the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq.

Foreign Ministry sources in Jerusalem said they had been informed of the U.S. move and that a similar decision was expected to be taken by the Canadian embassy. While other embassies have not informed the ministry of similar steps, they are expected to do so if and when the war seems imminent.

Copyright 2003 Haaretz. All rights reserved

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