Houla deaths: Western states to expel Syrian diplomats

 

Victims of the Houla massacre included dozens of children

Western states have announced they are expelling senior Syrian diplomats following the killing of 108 people in the Houla region of Syria on Friday.

The United States, France, the UK, Germany, Italy, Spain, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands and Switzerland all took action.

Most of the victims in Houla were summarily executed, the UN says.

UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan said, after talks with President Bashar al-Assad, Syria was at a "tipping point".

He said he had asked Mr Assad to take "bold steps" to see that his peace plan was implemented.

President Assad blamed the violence on "terrorists". His remarks were quoted by state TV.

Earlier, UN human rights spokesman Rupert Colville said initial investigations had suggested that most of those killed in the village of Taldou, near Houla, were summarily executed.

He said 49 children and 34 women were among the victims. UN observers who visited Taldou said many of the victims had been killed by close-range gunfire or knife attacks.

Eyewitnesses told the BBC that pro-government shabiha militiamen had carried out the killings. Survivors said they had hidden or played dead.

At the scene

Mr Annan asked President Assad to take bold actions today, not tomorrow, to end the violence. He said the situation had reached a tipping point. He believes that his plan has not been implemented. He urged all parties to implement it comprehensively.

The Syrian government denied it had breached the agreement and blamed the violence on terrorist groups - a typical message from a defiant government. But many here believe the massacre in Houla is a turning point.

It has pushed shopkeepers in Damascus who have not taken any public position over the past 15 months to go on strike. And it has encouraged more people to protest, even in the streets of central Damascus. They were violently dispersed by the security forces.

Many here in Syria attach great hope to the UN envoy's efforts but there are a lot of doubts about the government's willingness to make concessions. The fear is if no real action is taken now, violence could reach the centre of the capital, and the country will slip into a civil war.

Syrian leaders insist that the massacre was the work of "terrorists", aiming to derail the peace process and provoke intervention by Western powers.

Violence continued on Tuesday, with nearly 50 people killed in various incidents, according to activists.

'Heinous and brutal'

US state department spokesperson Victoria Nuland announced that the Syrian charge d'affaires in Washington had been given 72 hours to leave the country.

"We hold the Syrian government responsible for this slaughter of innocent lives [in Houla]," she said.

Speaking later, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the Obama administration remained opposed to military action in Syria, on the grounds that it might only lead to more carnage.

However, French President Francois Hollande, speaking in Paris, said an "armed intervention" was not being ruled out, provided it followed deliberation by the UN Security Council.

He said he would discuss Syria with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, when visits Paris on Friday.

In other reaction

  • Canada denounced the Syrian government's "heinous and murderous acts"
  • Australia described the Houla massacre as a "hideous and brutal crime"
  • Spain talked of "unacceptable repression"
  • The Dutch declared Syria's ambassador to the Netherlands, who is also ambassador to Belgium and lives in Brussels, as "persona non grata"
  • Syria's ambassador to Switzerland was declared "persona non grata"
  • Bulgaria said it was expelling Syria's interim ambassador and two other diplomats

Kofi Annan: "The Syrian people do not want their future to be one of bloodshed and division"

Syria's charge d'affaires in London has been given seven days to leave.

"The international community is appalled by the violence that has continued, by the behaviour of the regime, by the murder of so many innocent people," British Foreign Secretary William Hague said.

News of the expulsions was welcomed by Ronya Kaysar, a representative of Syrian opposition groups based in Qatar.

It would put "great pressure on the Syrian regime", she told BBC News.

Despite the international show of protest, it is unclear whether the mass diplomatic expulsions will change much on the ground, Bridget Kendall, the BBC's diplomatic correspondent, says.

'Bold steps'

President Assad said the success of Mr Annan's peace plan depended on halting what he called terrorist actions and stopping arms-smuggling.

Taldou, Houla region

Map locator
  • The region of Houla, in the west of Syria, comprises several villages and small towns
  • The village of Taldou lies around 2km south-west of the main town, also called Houla
  • The area is in the province of Homs, which has seen heavy fighting in recent months
  • Houla's villages are predominantly Sunni Muslim, but the region is ringed by a number of Alawite villages - the sect of the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad

Speaking to reporters, Mr Annan said the six-point international peace plan for Syria was not being implemented "as it must be".

"I appealed to him [Mr Assad] for bold steps now - not tomorrow, now - to create momentum for the implementation of the plan," he said.

Calling on the Syrian government and all government-backed militias to show "maximum restraint", he also asked the "armed opposition to cease acts of violence".

Russia, which supplies arms to the Syrian government and has blocked UN resolutions calling for action against Damascus, has blamed both sides for Friday's massacre.

Its Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, expressed concern that "certain countries" were beginning to use the Houla massacre "as a pretext for voicing demands relating to the need for military measures to be taken".

Speaking to Mr Annan by telephone on Tuesday, he again urged an end to violence on all sides, and called for an impartial investigation into the killings in Houla under the aegis of the UN observer mission.

A meeting of the so-called Friends of Syria group is to meet in France in July, President Francois Hollande's office said.

 

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  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 79.

    You should all go to rt.com and see how photos of an Iraqi 2003 massacre were shown and portrayed by western madia outlets yesterday as what happened in Houla. It is blatent mis-information and what is know as the Benghazi factor, stir things up as a precurser to possible intervention. Thank God Russia and China won't let certain Powers run a mockery like in Libya. It takes 2 to tango.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 78.

    Why has it taken this long to expel them, & why not all of them.

  • rate this
    +12

    Comment number 77.

    The problem is that western style democracies just don't work in these countries, and until we accept that we will get ouselves into trouble trying to install them - Iraq, Afghanistan etc. They seem to fare better under autocracy, which is (coincidentally?) what has developed throughout the region. Those that have had recent revolts will become dictatorships again, perhaps under a different hue.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 76.

    As far as I am concerned, the blood of these murdered children is on the hands of not just Assad but Russia and China as well.

    Remove Assad now or be complicite in every repugnant action this murderer takes against innocent children and people.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 75.

    Whoever would have thought it: the current Syarian govt. tells lies and doesn't abide by the agreements it made: Quelle surprise! And now, the world is waiting, but especially the other Arab states, for the West to blunder in yet again whilst the Arabs stay conveniently on the sideline, counting money, anticipating the fun in denouncing western imperialism for attempting to do what it never does!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 74.

    Farcical game playing. With no evidence whatever the regime change lot are upping the diplomatic nonsense. BBC all one sided as usual.

    It is a civil war leave them to fight it out. Do not pick one side over the other. You do not know who did this, or who ordered it. If anyone.

    Rebels running about with guns are of course portrayed as the 'good killers'.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 73.

    You can push all the diplomacy you like, you can even wage war against their army but it'll have no effect as long as this madman is alive. Psychotic - not a jot of empathy toward other people. The sanity of someone who allows or orders the murder of children en masse is not in doubt.

    But like it or not it isn't our war. It's down to the Syrians themselves to sort it out.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 72.

    I think Russian President Putin must be hold accountable because he is the boss of Syrian President Assad. Anti-west is Putin's premier goal, no matter how many innocent little children dead.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 71.

    The west has to stop being the policeman of civil wars. All western nations I can think of have been born from the crucible of civil uprising or war.

    If you intercede you create democracy by gun and are no better than the warring parties.

    Regime change must be brought about by the local population or the change will only be temporary as there is not enough to hold the old guard back. .

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 70.

    Its absolutely none of our business! Let the Arab league sort it out.

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 69.

    So have they found any of those WMDs yet?

    Our media is so full of it

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 68.

    Too little too late! At some point we will be involved in sorting out this mess so we might as well get started now to prevent more killings like this.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 67.

    Good news but what would hurt them much more would be to ban them from coming here for the Olympics but that would upset the Olympic movement who think this farce is more important than children getting their throats cuit

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 66.

    whether people like it or not without UN support we can't go in and remove the regime...this time. Most people are effected by what the read and see or watch but Chinese goverment are right... what would we do after they are gone? it hasn't worked out right in Iraq or Afganistan.

    Everyone just wants the violance to stop but at the top he doesn't want to go.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 65.

    That's telling Syria !! What next will the West do ? Write a strongly worded letter to The Times ?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 64.

    This is what happens when people who can do something do nothing.

    No doubt we will have the anti-British brigade still raving on about Iraq whilst conveniently forgetting atrocities like this were happening regularly under Sadam.

    I only hope this government shows as much conviction as the Blair government and removes this dictator once and for all.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 63.

    The Shabiha and Syrian Air Force Intelligence have been killing children all through the uprising. It's how the whole thing started. Let's remember Hamza Al Khateeb and all the other innocent children who have been targeted by this disgusting wicked regime.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 62.

    @ hyken no.41
    'I was talking about the armed syrian rebels - syrian army defectors as well as extremists from other countries. Opportunists and very dangerous to the Syrian peace process.'
    Yeah, 'cos defecting from the army, rather than kill civilians, that's opportunistic, right? And you said 'most' - so all the peaceful protesters vanished, did they, replaced by insurgents? Nonsense!

  • rate this
    +59

    Comment number 61.

    As far as I can see, Russia appears to be the rogue here blocking attempts to remove the Syrian murdering Dictatorship.

    Russia has the ability to use its own non-violent diplomacy but it does nothing because it is a major seller of military arms to Syria - that is dispicable, especially when the throats of children have been cut and Russia protects its business interests over childrens lives.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 60.

    Russia and China may be supporting Assad because of their trade relations, but to the cynical mind, why do you think our government is supporting the opposition? Is it because they genuinely care about the lives of innocent civilians – a noble thought – or is it because they want to build similar trade relations should the new government cease power? It's not a nice thing to consider...

 

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