Canada on Thursday urged its citizens to leave Syria immediately, saying President Bashar Assad's authoritarian regime "has lost all legitimacy, and its abhorrent behavior will not be tolerated."
The United Nations sharply raised its death toll this week for the nine-month uprising against the regime, saying more than 5,000 people have been killed.
The statement by Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird came the day new sanctions the Arab League imposed took effect, reducing commercial flights to and from Damascus by about 50 percent.
Baird said Canadians should leave Syria as soon as possible while flights are still available. The ministry said there are about 5,000 Canadians in the country.
"Our best advice is to leave Syria immediately, by any available means and while options exist," Baird said in a statement.
Canada has been advising its citizens to leave for some time, but the new call for a voluntary evacuation is more urgent.
Assad's regime is growing more isolated with the mounting international sanctions to punish his regime for its bloody crackdown that has mostly targeted unarmed, peaceful protesters.
Baird told a press conference Thursday that Assad's regime "has lost all legitimacy and its abhorrent behavior will not be tolerated."
He said it is becoming increasingly difficult for Canadian diplomats and consular officials to do their jobs under travel restrictions imposed by Syria.
"Canadians who remain in the country despite this warning should be aware that the government of Canada's ability to provide consular assistance may be extremely limited" because of the restrictions, his statement said.
Baird said the evacuation call will open an "express lane" across government departments to help Canadians obtain the documents they need to leave Syria immediately.