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 459.

    447.Darren Shepperd

    Oh dear, what can one say in reply to such a eloquent, profound and of course 100% factual post. Instead I would prefer to debate this serious subject knowing that the ripostes would be relevant to the grave situation in Syria.

  • rate this

    Comment number 458.

    Urging restraint when the two sides are bent upon slitting each other's throats does not make any sense at all. Kofi Annan has been given an impossible task and his whole mission is fraught with danger. The United Nations will have to send a force into Syria. Assad will have to be sent post haste to the Hague to answer human rights violations. The UN will need to get Russia and China on board.

  • rate this

    Comment number 457.

    These expulsions will do little to change Assad's path so long a Russia remains a tacit supporter of mass murder because that is exactly what Putin is doing by refusing to censure the current regime.
    Sanctions aimed at the Russian leadership might be more effective than what has been done so far.

  • rate this

    Comment number 456.

    407 IAN


  • Comment number 455.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 454.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 453.

    #446: At least 1200 children have been murdered by the regime's actions against the Syrian people over the last year and still our governments are reticent in assisting the FSA. Annan has failed, its time for stronger measures and to hell with Putin.

  • rate this

    Comment number 452.

    No justifcation for this act on the innocent the perpotrators will carry this for the rest of their lives and one day regret I hope when they are brought to justice no mercy will be shown

  • rate this

    Comment number 451.

    If Russia and China cannot behave and stop the slaughter may be the rest of the UN can vote them off the security council because they are only seeking to maintain their markets. Whether that would open up others to be tossed out I don't know but this nonsense cannot continue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 450.

    With the majority of today's comments on this topic it looks like Dr. Goebbels somehow resurrected and is busily active, with some degree of success.

    I'm only glad that no country expelled Norway's ambassador just because someone killed and wounded quite comparable number of people (most of the teenagers) there... note also, that in that Norwegian case that someone blames the Government.

  • rate this

    Comment number 449.

    97. MonroviaGunner
    Then don't make the error of using one wrong to justify another.

    Ah so you would admit it was a "wrong" - progress! Would you also admit Hussein murdering a million Iranians with Western help while Amnesty 'pinkos' were going apoplectic was a "wrong"? Odious Baathist thugs like Assad don't hold a candle to the realpolitik thugs in the UK taxpayer's employ

  • rate this

    Comment number 448.

  • rate this

    Comment number 447.

    perhaps you should stop watching lies put out by the pro illegal war brigade like the BBC and instead start counting the not thousands but hundreds of thousands of innocents murdered in Iraq and afghanistan by brave terrorists wearing nato/USA/UK uniforms
    @444 true but dont ever believe the BBC they lie about who did what in favour of money mens ways to steal more rescources

  • rate this

    Comment number 446.

    The eagerness of our leaders to stick their noses into this conflict makes me suspicious.

  • rate this

    Comment number 445.

    What I witness is Mr Hague seemingly procrastinate a difference in the value of a child's life! Depending on the criteria of;

    1/ A "justified" casualty of a smart bomb on Gaddafi's compound / A child in a Afghanistan wedding party killed by a NATO air strike


    2/ Some "apparent" act of state sponsored terrorism backed by a paid off mass media

    Where R Robin Cooks words when you need them

  • rate this

    Comment number 444.

    Logically, coldly, I know why we aren't doing something about this. But on a human level I simply cannot comprehend why we are letting this continue. I don't care what Britain has done in the past, I don't care what Syria or the whole damn world thinks of us. People. Are. Dying. Thousands of them, horribly. And we 'condem' it, that's enough is it? We should be ashamed of ourselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 443.

    Its a shame we can't do anything about are own home grown war criminals, lets just let them live in a 3.5m pound Belgravia house, while "acting" as a middle east peace envoy. if it was not true Sasha Baron Coen would have made a joke about it. politics is dead REVOLT

  • rate this

    Comment number 442.

    "Maybe everyone should watch/read from a less bull**** media source. Middle Eastern media sources a telling a different side of things..."

    I agree that we should broaden horizons, including press tv. But don't pretend that it does not have it's own biases. Read as much as you can from as varied a source as you can and don't rely on the BBC just because you've grown up being told it is impartial.

  • rate this

    Comment number 441.

    so countries PROVED to have expidited torture and illegal imprisonment of people for over decades are tryuing to lie about their next war and ;like a good lap dog the BBC will ensure they fail to point out the lies and untruths.
    Who knows they may well do a libiya again and suddenly get collective amnisia swhen nato start bombing hospitals and city centers and claim nato who are they

  • rate this

    Comment number 440.

    @427 & 429.Tunguska
    Well said!

    I despair at how so many are willing to swallow obvious half-truths in the 'free' west & how willing they are to send other's children off to get killed to assuage their faux-moral outrage.
    'Arab spring'? Suspicious. Reeks of secret service.
    As much as I wish people weren't murdered, this is a civil war and none of our business (beyond possibly starting it?)


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