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Syria’s diplomatic isolation deepened yesterday as four more Persian Gulf states moved to close their Damascus embassies in protest at the violent suppression of a year-old uprising, while Turkey advised its citizens in Syria to evacuate.

Turkey also announced that it would soon suspend consular services there, a possible prelude to the closure of its embassy as well.

In a further sign of alienation between Turkey and Syria, neighbours that used to be close, the Prime Minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said his government was considering the possibility of establishing a military buffer zone inside Syrian territory to help handle the flow of Syrian refugees across the border.

The diplomatic setback for the Syrian regime came as rebels ignited a new front outside Damascus, in the first significant fighting there since regime forces swept over the suburbs weeks ago.

Armed rebels clashed with government troops for several hours from Thursday night into Friday in Tal, on the northern outskirts of the capital, as well as two other suburbs, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

About 15,000 Syrians are now living in camps in southern Turkey, and Turkish officials have said they are preparing for the possibility of at least 30,000 more arrivals. The head of the Turkish Red Crescent, Ahmet Lutfi Akar, said that his organisation had discussed plans to accommodate up to 500,000 refugees in an ”extreme scenario”, Turkish news media reported.

There was little evidence that international diplomacy had made any significant headway in defusing the crisis, which has left more than 7500 people dead, according to United Nations estimates, since March last year, when political activists energised by the Arab Spring uprisings elsewhere began protesting against the rule of Syria’s President, Bashar al-Assad, who responded with a military crackdown.

At the United Nations Security Council on Friday, members received a confidential briefing from Kofi Annan, the former secretary-general appointed as a special representative on Syria for both the UN and the Arab League, about his talks last weekend with Mr Assad to reach a ceasefire and a negotiated settlement.

Mr Annan, who spoke to the council via video-link from Geneva, told reporters there afterwards that he had sent a team back to Damascus this weekend to resume discussions with the government on the proposals he had presented.

The Saudi press agency reported on Thursday that four members of the Saudi-dominated Gulf Co-operation Council – Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates – had joined Saudi Arabia and Bahrain in announcing the closure of their embassies in Damascus.

On Friday Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said Turkish citizens in Syria should leave as soon as possible and that consular services in Damascus would be suspended from Thursday. Officials did not rule out the possibility that Turkey’s embassy might be closed.

The New York Times

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