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U.N. pulls "non-essential" Syria staff due to insecurity

GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations said on Monday it was withdrawing "all non-essential international staff" from Syria due to the worsening security situation, and was restricting remaining aid workers to the capital.

Up to 25 of about 100 foreign staff could leave this week, it said, adding that more armored vehicles were needed after attacks in recent weeks on humanitarian aid convoys and the hijacking of goods or vehicles. Some convoys had been caught in crossfire between Syrian government and rebel forces, including an incident in which two staff were injured near the airport.

"The U.N. has decided to send all non-essential international staff out of Syria and to halt all field trips outside of the capital for now," the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a statement posted on its service www.irinnews.org.

Damascus had been considered safe until last week when the main airport was shut down and flights into Syria cancelled after several attacks by rebels, it said.

"The situation is significantly changing," said Sabir Mughal, the U.N.'s chief security advisor in Syria. "There is an increased risk for humanitarians as a result of indiscriminate shooting or clashes between the parties."

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Jon Hemming)

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