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US orders embassy workers out of Beirut ahead of possible Syria strike

The United States has withdrawn all non-emergency embassy workers and their families from Beirut and warned Americans against travel to Lebanon amid looming military strikes on Syria, the State Department said Friday.

It said the decision had been taken "due to potential threats to U.S. Mission facilities and personnel," and comes amid tension in the region over possible U.S.-led action.

“Given the current situation in Syria and the region, as well as potential threats to U.S. Government facilities and personnel, we are taking these steps out of an abundance of caution to protect our employees and their families, and local employees and visitors to our facilities,” a statement said.

“We will continue to assess the situation and to adjust our security posture accordingly.”

It also gave U.S. Embassy workers based in south-east Turkey the option to leave voluntarily.

Beirut's main airport is still open and commercial flights out are still available. However, the State Department warned that "should violence erupt suddenly...access to borders, airports, roads, and seaports can be interrupted with little or no warning."

"U.S. citizens in Lebanon should monitor ongoing political and security developments in Syria, as this may impact the security situation in Lebanon," it said, referring to the possibility of military intervention.

The State Department on Thursday issued a warning against all non-essential travel for U.S. citizens in Iraq because of “ongoing security concerns", including "kidnapping and terrorist violence.”

In Turkey it advised people to "avoid demonstrations and large gatherings."

Meanwhile in Iraq, army personnel were being sent to beef up guard numbers along its border with Syria, a security source told NBC News. There was no comment on how many units were involved, but a day earlier a source said that Iraqi forces are implementing "tight security along the border with Syria in anticipation of the American strike, and to ensure that there will be no infiltration of armed groups into Iraqi territory."

The activity in the region comes as U.S. President Barack Obama met other world leaders on the final day of the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia. Obama hoped to broaden support for U.S. They discussed, among other things, how to react to an alleged chemical weapons attack by Syrian government forces on Aug 21.

At home, Obama is attempting to convince U.S. lawmakers to sanction a punitive strike, which he publicly supports.

NBC News' Alexander Smith and Ghazi Balkiz contributed to this report.

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