December 10, 2012 / 3:02 PM / 6 years ago

Germany expels four Syrian embassy staff

Germany's Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle speaks as he delivers joint statements to the media with his Israeli counterpart Avigdor Lieberman (not seen) in Jerusalem November 19, 2012. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany has expelled four Syrian embassy staff as part of a drive to reduce ties with President Bashar al-Assad, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said on Monday.

Berlin has told Syria’s acting envoy that the four staff have until Thursday to leave Germany.

“With the expulsion of the four embassy employees announced today we are sending a clear message that we are reducing relations with the Assad regime to an absolute minimum,” Westerwelle said in a statement.

“We are counting on the (opposition) National Coalition strengthening further and building as soon as possible functioning institutions for a political transition,” he added.

France and Britain last month recognized the National Coalition as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people, though some EU countries including Germany have trodden more cautiously. Western governments are concerned about the presence of hardline Islamists in the opposition ranks.

Germany expelled the Syrian ambassador in May after a massacre widely blamed on forces loyal to Assad.

Last week, the German parliament approved the sending of Patriot missiles to NATO ally Turkey to defend it against possible Syrian missile attacks.

Syria’s civil war grew out of peaceful, Arab Spring-inspired mass protests against Assad in March last year.

Reporting by Gareth Jones; Editing by Angus MacSwan

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