Syria declares Western ambassadors unwelcome

US ambassador to Syria Robert Ford (file) The US ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, was withdrawn over fears for his safety in October

Syria has declared as unwelcome the ambassadors of several Western states, a week after governments around the world expelled its top diplomats.

The US, UK, French and Turkish envoys were among those designated "personae non gratae". Many have already left.

President Bashar al-Assad has blamed outside powers for Syria's divisions.

Meanwhile, the UN has said the Syrian government has agreed to allow aid agencies to enter the four provinces that have seen the most violence.

"This agreement was secured in Damascus with the government there, in writing," John Ging, the director of operations for UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told reporters in Geneva after a meeting of the Syrian Humanitarian Forum.

"Freedom of movement, unimpeded access for humanitarian action within Syria, is what it's all about now. The good faith of the [Syrian] government will be tested on this issue today, tomorrow and every day," he added.

Procedures would be streamlined for granting visas to staff from nine UN agencies and seven international NGOs, Mr Ging said. The UN will open field offices in the provinces of Deraa, Deir al-Zour, Homs and Idlib.

Annan's six-point peace plan

1. Syrian-led political process to address the aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people

2. UN-supervised cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties to protect civilians

3. All parties to ensure provision of humanitarian assistance to all areas affected by the fighting, and implement a daily two-hour humanitarian pause

4. Authorities to intensify the pace and scale of release of arbitrarily detained persons

5. Authorities to ensure freedom of movement throughout the country for journalists

6. Authorities to respect freedom of association and the right to demonstrate peacefully

The UN has been trying for months to get its aid workers into Syria, but with little success, reports the BBC's Imogen Foulkes in Geneva. Visa applications have been delayed or denied, and supplies of aid blocked.

The UN estimates that one million people are in need of assistance inside Syria, and that the number will likely increase after further assessments.

In a separate development, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, urged the international community to continue to support the peace plan negotiated by the UN and Arab League envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan, Chinese state TV said.

But Saudi Arabia's foreign minister said Gulf Arab states had "begun to lose hope in the possibility of reaching a solution... within this framework".

Mr Annan is to address the UN Security Council in New York on Thursday. He is believed to want a "serious review" of efforts to implement his plan.

'Importance of dialogue'

Last week, at least 13 countries expelled top Syrian diplomats in protest at the massacre of more than 100 people, including 49 children, in the Houla area of Homs province. Turkey expelled all Syrian embassy staff.

Start Quote

We hope the countries that initiated these steps will adopt those principles, which would allow relations to return to normal again”

End Quote Syrian foreign ministry

In what it described as a reciprocal move on Tuesday, the Syrian government announced that 17 diplomats from the US, UK, Switzerland, France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany and Canada were now considered "personae non gratae".

All Turkish diplomatic staff were also declared unwelcome.

"The Syrian Arab Republic still believes in the importance of dialogue based on principles of equality and mutual respect," a foreign ministry statement said.

"We hope the countries that initiated these steps will adopt those principles, which would allow relations to return to normal again."

The BBC's Jim Muir in Beirut says it will be a long time before the Western states are prepared to re-establish diplomatic ties.

US ambassador Robert Ford was called back to Washington in October over fears for his safety, while all British embassy staff were withdrawn in March on security grounds.

France also closed its embassy that month in protest at the "scandalous" repression of dissent by the government.

Heavy clashes

On Sunday, President Assad told parliament that Syria was facing not an internal crisis but an external war, waged against it because of its support for resistance to Israel.

Locals inspect the remains of a destroyed Syrian army tank in the town of Ariha (4 June 2012) There have been fierce clashes between soldiers and armed rebels in Syria in recent days

In his first public comment on the massacre at Houla, in which 108 people were killed on 25 May, Mr Assad said that even "monsters" would not have carried out such an act and it should prompt an end to bloodshed.

Survivors and human rights groups blamed the army and shabiha militiamen allied to the government for the deaths.

Tuesday's diplomatic move by the government came as activists said at least 34 people had been killed in violence across the country.

At least 15 soldiers were killed and dozens wounded, while four rebel fighters also died in fighting in several towns and villages in the Mediterranean province of Latakia, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

"These are the heaviest clashes so far in the area since the beginning of the revolution," Rami Abdul Rahman, the head of the UK-based group, told the Reuters news agency.

Several villages south-west of the central city of Homs earlier came under intense army artillery- and mortar-fire, leaving five people dead, according to the Local Co-ordination Committees, an activist network.

Four civilians were also reportedly killed overnight in a "huge military operation" in Kafrouaid, a village in the northern province of Idlib.

The UN says at least 9,000 people have died since pro-democracy protests began in March 2011. In April, the Syrian government reported that 6,143 Syrian citizens had been killed by "terrorist groups".

Map of Syria showing the location of refugee camps

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  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    HAWK jets and do some research before making a fool of yourself. It is not a Eurofighter because it is not meant to be, it is a advanced jet trainer with a light attack role thrown in.

    @16 WHAT? are you really advocating the use of live rounds on the streets of the UK the next time a lawful demonstration gets out of hand?

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    Does anyone know who the rebels are? If they are being funded and supported by the Saudis (hardly tolerant and a Sunni hotbed of anti western thinking that has bred in Pakistan and now in our own country), then god help us. Lets leave these country's to sort themselves out without foreign intervention of any kind.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Diplomatic expulsions, sanctions, 'strongly worded' letters - it all reminds me of the Judean Popular Front in the film 'Life of Brian'. Lots of hot air and no action. Meanwhile people are being murdered. It's time the UN developed a backbone and sent in a peacekeeping force.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Syria is being surrounded by Israeli plots thickening beyond control. Complicated situation in Syria is ever more obfuscated by myriad forces at work to destroy friend of Iran, FOE OF ISRAEL. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad warned on Sunday Syria has become the target of imperialist foreign conspiracy & country is facing a real war waged FROM THE OUTSIDE.

  • Comment number 16.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Syria has nothing to lose by expelling western diplomats. Alll the western countries are doing is supporting armed terrorist groups in the country and urging the Syrian government to stop trying to resist them and let them take power. They have no interest in peace or the welfare of the Syrian people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Again were beholden to oil money this time it Saudi Oil Money which is sponsoring the civil war and Buying obsolete hawker trainer jets for billions yet we ignore bashire of Sudan who has ethnically cleansed raped and murdered millions of his civilian population but thats OK because the saudis respect him and he has oil we should stay out of Syria we have no place undermining a secular country

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    This is hardly news, how do you expect him to react to the expulsion of his diplomats? We would do the same and have done in the past.
    There is a world of difference between the accidental death of civilians however unpalatable it is and the active targeting of them AKA Assad's thugs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    @6 Unless you mean 'your' in the context of possession, the word you need to use is 'you're' - as in 'you are'.

    The irony is that you're the clear idiot - in ironic contrast to your name. Number 5's comment makes perfect sense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Make that "propoganda."

    Recently we heard that during the Homs massacre, the soldiers introduced themselves to the victims as belonging to Asad and not killing the people whom they told. This seems a bit suspicous and illogical to me, just another false flag attempt that hasnt been very well thought out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    "To be declared persona non grata at the court of the modern Herod, slaughterer of children, is an honor"

    Just the other day a US drone killed 16 civilians in Afghanistan. How many hundreds of thousands have been murdered in US-led illegal wars?

    Anglo-Saxon hypocrisy. Again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    @6: Would you kindly explain why Peter (#5) doesn't have a clue, rather than smugly leaving your comment at that.

    On-topic: What can I say? This Assad guy is a nasty piece of work and if he ever had a mandate to lead Syria, he's lost it now. I've had enough of apologists saying it's none of our business, we're all humans and there's nothing wrong with doing the right thing to help our fellow man!

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Basshar's time is ticking as we speak. This cruel, despicable human, must recognize that his throne to power and his sect is diminishing. He deserves a worst punishment than Saddam..

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    This situation needs to approached with a certain amount of discretion. There is an opposition, the Free Syria Army, essentially rebels who as of recent have started to be armed, most likely by the many enemies that Syria has, in particular Saudi Arabia, the USA and Israel. Looking at the facts logically it seems that the pressure on Syria is political rather than ethical with rife propogoganda.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Haha, Number 5, you really do not have the slightest clue what your talking about.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    To be declared persona non grata at the court of the modern Herod, slaughterer of children, is an honour. I wonder if such honours will be extended to the Chinese and Russians?

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Syria has been stable for a number of years and Assad is not a madman like Gaddafi, he doesn't export terrorism, he doesn't provide a base for Al Qaeda. He and his wife are quite Anglophile.

    The rebels are an unknown quantity but probably Islamists who would bring with them a period of instability ripe for Al Qaeda.

    You have to question the sense of Western & British foreign policy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Can't imagine they want to stay there much longer anyway...

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    No need to invade or do another Libya here. One well placed JDAM will sort this particular piece of work out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    One day we'll put bloodthirsty Bashir on trial - until then enjoy your murderous reign.


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