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

    Comment number 319.

    Expelling diplomats is not enough. Asad, his family and henchmen must be caught, forcibly removed from Syria, and taken to the Hague for trial.

    Russia is the pariah here. Still suppying the murdering regime with weapons. They are making plenty of money out of the killing of the Syrian people

    The Arab dictators seem so utterly cruel to their own people. Uncivilised barbarians

  • rate this

    Comment number 318.

    I don't think there's any doubt that are media and government often have corrupt tendencies, but there are countries in the world that are a million times worse.
    If you are the sort of person who will stand by and see your neighbour getting murdered then that is your call. If you feel it is time to stand up to the perpetrator that is another, this is often the conundrum in world politics

  • rate this

    Comment number 317.

    310. Peter Barry I was indeed :D Now you know why Dr David Kelly had to go...

  • rate this

    Comment number 316.

    Who is responsible for this atrocity?

    ALL countries who sit on the sidelines and "watch" it happen.

  • rate this

    Comment number 315.

    ...21. the-moog..."After the Uyger riots in Xinjiang (China) over 2000 muslim men just disappeared ... and we still buy China's crap, so where's the outrage?!'...
    Indeed. Until China takes its responsibilities seriously, I will not buy Chinese goods.

  • rate this

    Comment number 314.

    The powers play their games again. This atrocity causes outcry throughout the Western world and yet when Israel committed genocide in the Lebanon in July 2006, killing over 1 million innocent men, women, children and babies in response to the capture of two soldiers, everyone said it was justified. The killing of children is never justified but lets have some perspective here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 313.

    @250.rightonthebutton "Israel bombed Lebanon killing 1,191... bombed Gaza killing 1,205."

    So Assad is retaliating against the people of Homs, Houla and Hama for the Israeli action in Lebanon and Gaza? Its' high time you get your analogy right. You spent 50 years scapegoating Israel for everything. In 2011 Egypt, Tunisia and Libya showed otherwise. Wake up!

  • rate this

    Comment number 312.

    You find ten times as many civilians killed in a typical Western bombing raid in the Middle East. Heavens, more old people die in a week in the average English county from a deliberately badly organised NHS.

    Is anyone stupid enough not to see the propaganda preparing for a Western toppling of Syria? Is anyone unscientific enough that they assume the massacre was engineered by Syria's government?

  • rate this

    Comment number 311.

    The British government is fighting terrorism in Afghanistan, where innocent civilians are being killed.
    The Syrian government is fighting terrorism in Syria, where innocent civilians are being killed, and is condemned by the British government.

  • rate this

    Comment number 310.

    288. trustnothing ....

    I hope you're not referring to nuclear weapons that were sold to a Middle East country by our current Prime Minister?

    Ten second read here:

    That is DYNAMITE!

    No wonder your post was censored.

  • rate this

    Comment number 309.

    Russia has failed to behave like a superpower or big brother and unwittingly blocked the passage of UN resolution asking Damascus to respect human rights. They ought to take the moral responsibility for whatever goes wrong in Syria now. China is another rogue superpower, which tries to oppose everything that harms its interests in the region. When diplomacy fails, diplomats need to be kicked out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 308.

    All I can say to the Russians is do not feel troubled over actual or pontential difficulties with the west give us enough rope and we will hang our selves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 307.

    @ Peter Barry

    Of course they are armed, but not on the scale of the Syrian Regime/hired thugs. Without the rebels more innocents would have been killed.All atrocities have been carried out by the Syrian Regime. I have family there remember? Do you even know how controlling the Syrian Regime is? My father-in-law is afraid to say anything on the telephone (that's provided the line hasn't been cut).

  • rate this

    Comment number 306.

    @279 'angry_of_garston'
    This poster is right - expelling diplomats or applying sanctions is pointless and usually circumvented. As with Iran - France are still importing Iranian oil via subsiduary companies, in spite of sanctions.

    Sanctions are fake and only hurt ordinary people on the ground. Plus feed the whip for governments to arouse more discontent by distraction from internal problems.

  • rate this

    Comment number 305.

    We should only intervene if the following people & Organisations give their full backing ( .publicly stated.)

    Lord Ahmed
    Baroness Warsi
    Baroness Hussian
    MP K.Vaz
    U.K. Muslim Parlement
    U.K. Council of Mosques
    Imman of Finsbury Park Masque.

  • rate this

    Comment number 304.

    108 Civilians. About 1000 less than Gaza, then. The rank stench of hypocrisy coming from British politicians is stronger than the smell of death coming from Syria.

  • rate this

    Comment number 303.

    Do people really care about this, I am not being unfeelling but over the last ten years plus we have seen this on TV.So the knee jerk reaction is to try and topple a regime that our government does not like. We toppled saddam, then invaded Afganistan and threaten, SK,Iran and now Syria.How much does all this war mongering cost we are broke.

  • rate this

    Comment number 302.

    286. WhyMe44 Why not? Much of the time it is the what the media end up using anyway, ie recorded live at the scene footage, see the recent UN/Chicago protests for example .From watching Libya it was easy to spot the western special ops, some wearing UN helmets at the "capture of Gadaffi" of course the "rebels" were actually wearing Qatari camouflage, the truth is often in the details

  • rate this

    Comment number 301.

    the beeb are liars. they dont care about the so called killings they just want to control this part of the world and the petrol they care about nothing but their own citizens
    they choose their actions acoording to the profit they can have
    hopefully china and russia will put them in their place... maybe they will threat and attack china and russia? no they are not that brave

  • rate this

    Comment number 300.

    The Western leaders' double standard policies and actions that made Tamils as slaves in their homeland. These so called Western nations armed and helped the Sri Lankan regime to massacre over hundred thousand innocent Tamils including women and children, thus committed heinous war crimes and crimes against humanity. Shame on these leaders to talk about human rights, democracy and freedom!


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