BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — Brazil’s Foreign Ministry says it has removed nearly all diplomats from its embassy in Syria because of heavy fighting there.

The ministry says in an emailed statement Friday that the diplomats are now stationed in Beirut.

The ministry emphasized it’s not closing the embassy. It says a diplomat remains in Damascus to attend to any Brazilians in the Middle Eastern country.

Fighting between government troops and rebels has been raging in Syria’s capital Damascus, with hundreds being killed in recent days.

Brazil has a large and influential expatriate Syrian community, mostly in Sao Paulo, South America’s largest city.

The first Syrian immigrants arrived toward the end of the 18th century and established themselves in business, medicine and academics.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.