UN to move half of international staff out of Syria

The United Nations is moving about half of its 100 international staff in Syria out of the country as violence creeps closer to UN facilities, a spokesman said Monday.

The foreign staff in Damascus will be relocated because of "security conditions," UN spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters.

Nearly all of the Damascus staff of UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi will be moved to Cairo or Beirut, Nesirky told reporters.

But he stressed that efforts by Brahimi, who is based in Cairo, to end the two-year-old conflict would continue.

"Yesterday and today a number of mortar shells fell in close proximity to and on the grounds of the hotel in Damascus housing UN staff," Nesirky said.

The mortars damaged the building and some cars, including one UN vehicle, he added.

Suicide bombings and other attacks have also struck close to UN buildings as Damascus has emerged as a key battleground in the war between President Bashar al-Assad's forces and rebels, diplomats said.

Nesirky said about 50 of the 100 UN international staff in Damascus would be affected by the "temporary relocation." A handful will also be moved to other Syrian cities such as Homs.

There are also about 800 Syrian UN workers in the capital. Many have been told to work from home because of the dangers.

The large UN-run humanitarian operation in Syria is aimed at providing food and other aid to more than two million Syrians caught in the two-year-old conflict, which the United Nations says has killed more than 70,000 people.

Most of the distribution work is now carried out by Syrian staff and through the Syrian Red Crescent.

"These measures are being undertaken solely for security reasons. The United Nations remains active and committed to helping the Syrian sides in their search for a political solution," Nesirky said.