Houla massacre: UK government 'will not abandon' Syrian people

Rally in Houla
Image caption Thirty-four children were among over 100 who died in the Houla massacre

The British government "will not abandon" the people of Syria following the "sickening massacre" in Houla, a Downing Street spokesman has said.

David Cameron has chaired a meeting of the National Security Council.

The NSC "considered all the options on the table" for dealing with President Bashar al-Assad's regime, the spokesman said.

Syrian authorities deny they were responsible for the deaths on Friday of 108 people, including 34 children.

The NSC agreed that further sanctions against the Assad regime should be considered if Syria refused to comply with the six point peace plan, brokered by former UN secretary general Kofi Annan.

"The prime minister wants to be sure that we are doing all we can to bring an end to the violence in Syria and to support the process of transition," said the Number 10 spokesman.

Emergency talks

The NSC discussed the range of diplomatic efforts being pursued by the government, but concluded the Syrian authorities "must comply" with the Annan plan.

A Downing Street spokesman said: "Our goal is a peaceful political transition and our focus remains on the Annan plan, but the Assad regime should not make the mistake of believing that we will abandon the Syrian people."

Senior government ministers have increased their efforts to find a solution to the crisis since the Houla massacre was first reported, and say they will "keep up" their work in the weeks ahead.

Foreign Secretary William Hague flew to Moscow on Sunday for emergency talks with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Russia and China have been the principal opponents of stronger action against the Syrian regime.

On Monday, the prime minister spoke to France's President Francois Hollande and the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon about the massacre.

On the same day, Syria's most senior diplomatic in the UK was summoned to the Foreign Office so the government could "make clear our condemnation of the violence of the regime".

Three Syrian diplomats were expelled from the UK a day later.

On Wednesday the British ambassador to the United Nations (UN) told the UN Security Council in New York that more needs to be done "to accelerate the political process, to ensure accountability for the massacre at Houla".

Mr Hague flew to Istanbul on Thursday, for continued talks with international partners and the Syrian opposition groups.

He told Channel 4 News that he would like to see President Assad appear at the International Criminal Court (ICC) over the Houla massacre, but there was little hope of the UN Security Council agreeing to refer the regime to the tribunal.

He insisted urgent action was needed to prevent Syria rapidly descending into civil war.

"One of the great dangers here is that Syria could collapse into a sectarian civil war in which casualties could be far greater even than the horrific scenes and the terrible toll that we have seen already," he said.

The UN Human Rights council will hold an emergency session in Geneva on Friday, at the request of the UK, to discuss the escalating violence in Syria.