WASHINGTON, July 19 (UPI) -- All U.S. citizens in Libya should leave the country immediately because of fighting between rebel and government forces, the U.S. State Department said Tuesday.
The State Department in late February issued a travel warning for Libya during an uprising against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. Gadhafi's forces responded to the uprising with brutal force, prompting the U.N. Security Council in March to sanction international military action to protect civilians.
The State Department said Tuesday that it was recommending that all U.S. citizens in Libya leave the country. The U.S. Embassy in Tripoli is closed and the Hungarian government, acting on Washington's behalf in Libya, can't issue travel documents to the United States, the warning stated.
"Currently, there is a risk of attacks against hotels and other public buildings in Benghazi and other opposition-held areas in Libya," the warning read.
Members of the NATO-led military operation in Libya last week recognized the rebel-backed Transitional National Council as the country's legitimate leadership.
A State Department official speaking to The Daily Telegraph in London said Washington had delivered a message to members of the Gadhafi regime saying it was time for the embattled leader to step aside.
The U.S. delegates, including Jeffrey Feltman, the top State Department official in charge of Middle East policy, gave Gadhafi's advisers "a clear and firm message that the only way to move forward is for Gadhafi to step down," the State Department official said.