Canada announced Thursday it was organizing an evacuation of its nationals from Syria, saying the situation in the violence-wracked Middle East nation "continues to deteriorate."
Foreign Minister John Baird said Ottawa has "directed officials to undertake a voluntary evacuation over the next month" and in the meantime was calling on Canadians "to leave Syria immediately, by any available means and while options exist."
Ottawa has been urging its nationals to leave Syria since October.
But Baird now warned that "the deteriorating situation and the sanctions being imposed on Syria by the Arab League will have a significant impact on commercial air transport."
Canadian officials in Damascus may not be able to assist anyone choosing to leave after 14 January with travel documents, he added.
Already Syrian authorities have imposed "significant" travel restrictions on Canadian diplomats in the country, making it difficult to provide consular assistance in the event of an emergency."
"Today we are declaring a voluntary evacuation of all Canadians in Syria," said Baird. "The time to leave Syria is now."
The Arab League decided on 12 November to suspend Syria's membership and warned it would head to the United Nations if President Bashar al-Assad's regime pressed on with its deadly crackdown on protesters seeking his ouster.
The United Nations this week estimated that more than 5,000 people have been killed in the Syrian government's crackdown on dissent, which enters its 10th month on Thursday.
Arab foreign ministers hold an emergency meeting in Cairo on Saturday to respond to Syria's proposal to admit observers in exchange for an end to regional sanctions.
Western nations say they are waiting for the Arab League meeting to decide their next action, with diplomats saying Russia would almost certainly use its Security Council veto again unless there is a strong Arab lead on the crisis.