Syrian Observatory for Human Rights: The Syrian Observatory welcomes the expulsion of Syrian diplomats
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) would like to voice its approval for the actions taken by Britain, France and other EU members as well as Canada and Australia in expelling Syria’s ambassadors and diplomats from their soil in repugnance of the terrible massacre committed in Houla, where more than a hundred civilians were killed, 32 of them children.
The SOHR urges the other members of the European Union, and all countries that respect human rights, to take steps towards expelling the diplomats and ambassadors of the Syrian regime from their capitals. The SOHR also urges these countries to withdraw their own diplomats from Damascus.
It is worth mentioning that these late-coming steps were one of the first urged by the SOHR’s director, Rami Abdel Rahman, when he met with British, French and EU representatives. These decisions effectively isolate the Syrian regime and would pressure it to halt its atrocious killing machine that is a means to put down the Syrian people’s uprising for freedom and dignity.
The number of civilian martyrs in Syria today (Tuesday 29/5/2012), documented by the SOHR with name and reason of death, has risen to 32.
-In Homs 18 today. 8 were killed in Reef Homs: 3 by the bombardment of Buweida, a child was killed during the bombardment of the village of Burhaniya, 4 members of rebel groups were killed during clashes. 9 people were killed in the city of Homs including a woman and a child. A civilian was killed in the village if Izzedine.
-In Hama 5 were martyred. Activists report that a child was murdered by a sniper near the worker’s union building in the city of Hama. One man was killed by regime random fire in Tuweini. 2 were shot dead by a sniper in the Tareeq Halab neighbourhood of Aleppo. An elderly man was killed when regime forces fired heavy machine-guns and mortars on the village of Batbo in west Aleppo.
-2 citizens were killed in Idlib. The body of a man detained four days ago was found in the town of Saraqib; the other died of gunshot wounds in Ma’arat al-Ni’man.
-2 killed in Reef Dimashq. One by sniper in ein Tirma, the other was killed when regime forces stormed Qatana.
-2 killed in aleppo. A child was martyred in Atarib by the regimes bombardment of the town; a man was killed by excessive torture in the security branch in the village of Mengh.
-In Deir Izzor a man from al-Buseira was killed by excessive torture after he was detained at a protest in Damascus.
-Dera’a lost 2 civilians, one was killed when Syrian forces stormed the village of Yaduda this morning, the other was shot by a sniper in the city of Dera’a.
*The bodies of 13 unidentified persons was found in Reef Deir Izzor.
5 defected rebels, including 2 officers and a policeman, were killed during the overnight clashes in Atarib.
Syrian Uprising 2011 Information Centre: Summary (29/05/2012): At least 72 martyrs have been reported today, including 13 executed detainees whose bodies were dumped in the Deir Ezzor countryside and 2 15-year old cousins shot in the street by Assad’s thugs in Hama and their bodies kidnapped.
In Damascus Annan had his non-comedy talks with Assad – the laughs were provided by Deputy FM Mokdad with his claims that “Syria has not done a single violation of Annan’s plan.” Most protesters consider the Annan plan to be finished and the observers are becoming an increasingly unwelcome presence.
Meanwhile, we welcome the decision of Australia, Bulgaria, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, UK and USA to expel Syrian diplomats today but we can’t help wondering, WHAT TOOK THEM SO LONG? Google map
In a meeting with the Syrian President, Bashar Al-Assad, the Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and the League of Arab States on the Syrian Crisis, Kofi Annan, today stressed that a peace plan, put forward in March, cannot succeed without “bold steps” to stop the violence and release detainees.
“We are at a tipping point,” Mr. Annan told reporters at a press briefing in the Syrian capital of Damascus, during which he spoke about the meeting with the President. “The Syrian people do not want the future to be one of bloodshed and division, yet the killings continue and the abuses are still with us today.”
Mr. Annan said he had conveyed to Mr. Assad, in frank terms, “the grave concern of the international community about the violence in Syria,” and, in particular, the events in Houla over the weekend.
The UN estimates that more than 9,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in Syria and tens of thousands displaced since the uprising against President Assad began some 15 months ago. Mr. Annan arrived in Damascus on Monday, just days after a massacre of over 100 men, women and children in the village of Houla, which he described as “an appalling crime.”
The Special Envoy noted that Mr. Assad also condemned the killings in Houla and that the Syrian Government is organizing its own investigations to find those responsible.
However, he stressed that the six-point plan – which he put forward in March this year – is not being implemented as it should be. The plan calls for an end to violence, access for humanitarian agencies to provide relief to those in need, the release of detainees, the start of inclusive political dialogue that takes into account the aspirations of the Syrian people, and unrestricted access to the country for the international media.
“I appealed to [President Assad] for bold steps now – not tomorrow, now – to create momentum for the implementation of the plan. This means that the Government, and all Government-backed militias, could stop all military operations and show maximum restraint,” Mr. Annan said.
He added, “I also appeal to the armed opposition to cease acts of violence, and I also ask all States with influence to impress upon the Government and all parties the need for a cessation of violence in all its forms – including the continuing human rights abuses.”
In addition, Mr. Annan said he had stressed to Mr. Assad that the implementation of the six-point plan was not open-ended.
“We did not agree on a specific timetable, but I made it clear that it is not an open ended process and that time is coming, sooner rather than later, when the international community will need to make an assessment as to how things are going and what further actions or activities may be necessary,” he said.
Asked about the decision by various countries to expel Syrian diplomats from their territories, Mr. Annan said this was a sovereign decision made by each State, and the moves reflected the grave concern the international community has regarding the massacre in Houla.
As you know, I arrived in Damascus yesterday and I met President Assad this morning. I had earlier met the Foreign Minister, and I have also had a range of other meetings with opposition and civil society figures.
In my meeting with President Assad, I conveyed in frank terms the grave concern of the international community about the violence in Syria, including the recent shocking events in Houleh. I should note that he condemned the killings, too.
The Security Council has made clear the need for these killings to be investigated and for those responsible to be held accountable. I also note that the Government of Syria is organizing its own investigations and that is very encouraging.
In my meeting with President Assad, I expressed appreciation for the cooperation of the Syrian Government, which enabled the UN to deploy an observer mission to Syria, quickly.
However, I shared with President Assad my assessment that the six point plan is not being implemented as it must be.
We are at a tipping point. The Syrian people do not want the future to be one of bloodshed and division. Yet the killings continue and the abuses are still with us today.
As I reminded the President, the international community will soon be reviewing the situation.
I appealed to him for bold steps now – not tomorrow, now – to create momentum for the implementation of the plan.
This means that the Government, and all Government-backed militias, could stop all military operations and show maximum restraint. I appealed to the President as the government and stronger partner in this conflict to be bold for the Syrian people.
The violence has stopped. We all remember the violence stopped before, on the 12 of April, there was calm. There is no reason it cannot stop again. Both sides stopped the 12 of April and it can be done again. What is required is the will and determination and concern for the Syrian people.
I also appeal to the armed opposition to cease acts of violence.
And I also ask all States with influence to impress upon the Government and all parties the need for a cessation of violence in all its forms – including the continuing human rights abuses.
I also strongly appealed to the President to exercise his power and release detainees. It is also essential that access is granted to all detainees and places of detention.
In addition, President Assad and I agreed on the importance of humanitarian aid flowing to all parts of the country, including unfettered access for the UN and aid agencies.
I urged the President to respect freedom of peaceful protest, and to ensure that people are allowed to voice their views without fear.
I noted that more journalists, more foreign journalists, are gaining visas to enter Syria, and encouraged the President to continue along this path and further open up.
Let me stress once again: the violence must stop and the six point plan must be implemented. I need the President to act now. I need other parties to do their part.
Let me finish with a message to all Syrians: I know that you want a peaceful future. We must not let the bitterness and bloodshed consume the country.
For the sake of Syria, and for the region, we must end this violence and begin to restore hope in a political transition to a democratic future – a future in which all communities have their place. I am totally committed to this cause and I am sure you all are.
Thank you. I will now take your questions.
Question: Can you please tell us how Mr. Assad reacted to your basic reiteration of your six-point plan and how do you judge the decision of a large number of European countries to expel the Syrian ambassador today?
Joint Special Envoy: As I said we had a frank discussion. I didn’t expect him to give me answers on the spot, but I hope he is considering them, he took them on board, and I hope we will see some action soon. Obviously he will need to consult and move forward with it, but he seemed open and I would hope we will see results. It is not for me; it is for his people and his country, I hope as a leader he will act. On the European issue, it is a sovereign decision that they have taken but obviously it shows the grave concern in the international community regarding the massacre in Houleh.
Question: If the six-point plan is not implemented Sir, what do you predict for the future of Syria, especially on a day when five countries have taken action against Syrian diplomats and also in the light of sanctions imposed on the Syrian people?
Joint Special Envoy: If the plan is not implemented, I would worry for the future of Syria, I would worry about stability in the country. As we see around us there is lots of violence and we need to create an avenue to bring people together and lead them to the table. The six-point plan in its essence is a political proposal. It is a plan that will pacify the environment, create the right atmosphere for political negotiations and I hope we will still work hard to get that done. If we do not, may God help us.
Question: After what happened in Houleh, many people feel there is a turning point in the situation Syria. From your meeting with President Assad today, how far do you feel the Syrian Government is willing to commit itself to the six-point plan?
Joint Special Envoy: I do not want to speak for the Syrian Government. I hope after our meetings, they would also make their views known and demonstrate their answer and commitments through their actions. And I urge them very frankly to move ahead and work with us on implementing the six-point plan. And there are parts of the plan were the Government can act quickly and has the authority to do so.
Question: I am asking about the expelling of the Ambassadors today, does it help your mission? Also some countries expressed support for the terrorist groups. Are you done anything to prevent these countries from doing that?
Joint Special Envoy: Obviously, as someone who believes we should talk to resolve conflicts, I would prefer a situation where everybody is talking to each other to find a solution. But these governments have decided that events have taken place in this country and they have to register their protest and their disapproval, and they chose asking for the withdrawal of the Syrian diplomats as a way of doing it. As I said [in response] to the earlier question, it is their sovereign decision to do so. On the question of the violence in the country and terrorist attacks and all that, we are in touch with everybody. We have contacts with the armed opposition and the opposition, and I have contacts with governments around the world who have influence on both sides to use their influence to pull back the groups from the violent acts.
Question: Sir, have you exerted any efforts to see that the Lebanese hostages are released?
Joint Special Envoy: I have spoken to some of those involved. I have had discussions here with the government and also with the Turkish authorities, and I will be in Lebanon soon and will have the chance to discuss that as well.
Question: Today our correspondent in Deir Ez Zor was accompanying and filming the UN Observers as they were identifying some dead bodies, when he [the correspondent] was kidnapped by some armed men. The bodies are now in his car and he is still with the armed men. He told them that he was associated with the Observers, but the Observers denied this and said that he was not with them.
Joint Special Envoy: I was not there, I cannot deal with it; this is something you should report. UNSMIS are here; they have heard the question and the complaint, and I would urge you at the end of this press conference to see the UNSMIS officials and they will discuss that with you.
Question: Ahmad Fawzi said that you asked President Assad to take bold steps to implement the six-point plan and that you were also concerned about the situation in Syria. On the other hand, President Assad has said that the crux of the problem in Syria is the terrorist acts and the smuggling of arms across borders to the armed opposition or to the militants. Is there a difference of opinion between the two of you?
Joint Special Envoy: The President indeed did say that to me. When you look at the situation on the ground, in reality you have several actors and people on the ground. We have the Government forces, we have the opposition armed groups and there are terrorist activities which we all see. But I think, we believe, that to bring peace to Syria the Government and the opposition armed forces and whoever is fighting on the other side – yesterday I used a phrase that when we talk of peace, we are not giving a message of peace only to the Government side or to the armed opposition; it is to everyone with a gun. Everyone with a gun must understand that the people of Syria want peace and eventually we will need to find a political way out without our guns. But the way the six-point plan is elaborated, indicates that we see two sides. And we have asked the Government, as a bigger partner, as a more responsible party, to take certain bold steps to be able to encourage confidence and momentum for the others. That was the basis of the six-point plan and we are encouraging its implementation.
Question: I am Russian living in Syria and reporting for various Russian online sites. What is happening in Syria reminds me of what happened in Yugoslavia that led to its division. We have sources that tell us that the Pentagon is preparing for war. If that happens, what do we do? What do Syrians do and what does the Government do?
Joint Special Envoy: First of all, I have no information that the Pentagon is preparing for war. And by implication you think we will repeat what happened in Yugoslavia, I have no indications of that. What I would insist on is that we all take steps to help end this violence. Yes the Government and the other parties with guns have a responsibility. But let me say that we as citizens and as individuals are not entirely helpless either. I know it is stressful, there are lots of fears and threats, but people can find ways and means of making their feelings known. Of getting the message around that we do not accept this; this is enough, no more violence, no more. You can play a role in a way that perhaps you cannot imagine, but people and the population do have lots of power and working together can do a lot.
Question: What is the most difficult thing to implement in the six-point plan? We notice that all parties say they are committed to your plan, but actually their actions are different?
Joint Special Envoy: This is why I am saying: words are wonderful, but action is better. What is important is demonstrate through action a real commitment to the plan and this is what the international community is asking for now: action, not words, because as I said, some of these points can be done very easily. Yes, if you take the question of stopping the violence, one needs both sides to sort of come together. I mean if the Government moves, the other side has to move and we are encouraging everyone to commit to actually doing it. But on some of the others, decisions can be taken and it can be done. So what we want is action not just vocal commitment to the plan.
Question: You were in contact with all sides to stop terrorist acts in Syria. But we still see these terrorist acts and the Syrian people are paying a heavy price. What are you doing to stop these countries and limit their ability to supply weapons?
Joint Special Envoy: First of all, as the joint envoy for the UN and the Arab League, my mandate is clear. My mandate is for us to work with the Syrians and all concerned to find a peaceful solution. And therefore I am not one who will encourage or promote militarization of the conflict and the UN is not in favour of further militarization of the conflict.
Question: What do you say about reports that residents of Houleh tried to contact the UN observers on the night of the massacre and that the UN did nothing to contact them?
Joint Special Envoy: I do not think I can answer this question. This is news to me and I would give you the same advice that I gave your colleague: UNSMIS is here, they heard your question and you should follow up with them after the press conference.
Question: Violence has increased in Syria despite your mission. We are seeing acts of terrorism. How do you evaluate your mission in this light? Do you think it will succeed?
Joint Special Envoy: First of all, let me say that the monitors are not independent actors. They are here to help the Syrian people. And we are all here because we share the pain of the Syrian people. We put you welfare at the centre of everything that we do. At the end of the day, I think we should all be clear: Those who can end the conflict are the protagonists. We have indicated the actions the Government can take and the six-point plan makes it very clear. We have also indicated the actions we expect the opposition and the armed groups to take. We have also appealed to Governments around the world not to further militarize this process. The observers are here to help. If you wish, the UN is here offering a ladder for everyone to climb down and focus on the needs of the Syrian people; to pull the situation back from the brink. They are not armed. You have seen the weapons the others have. How would one expect 300 unarmed men to stop the conflict? I get very distressed when I read in the press that the monitors have not stopped the war; that the monitors have failed. They did not come here to take on the fighters. They came to offer an opportunity, an opportunity and for people to make a choice: to accept the cessation of the violence and go through the six-point plan leading to a political settlement, political transition, and I hope this chance will be taken. Pointing fingers at the monitors is the wrong thing to do. And pointing fingers always at outsiders, yes they are involved, but there are measures that we can also take at home, the Government can take to really try and end the situation. I am not saying this because they are my monitors. Even if they were not, I would have made the same argument for them.
Question: Mr. Annan, is there any plan to increase the number of Observers and what about the logistics support for them. Yesterday, even some Syrian parties asked to withdraw this mission and to announce its failure?
Joint Special Envoy: Let me say that from the answer I gave to the previous question, you will understand what I am going to say. I don’t think the solution is more monitors. The solution is people acting on an agreement they have signed on to; people implementing the six-point plan; people deciding: we love our country, we love our people and we are not going to kill each other and that the bloodshed must stop. That is where and how we end it. They can do it; it is not the monitors. And those who believe the monitors have failed, I would suggest it is a bit hasty, they just got here. And they can do even more if the parties cooperate with them.
Question: We have been at the entrance of Houleh and we could see the situation there and we also know that the people who are inside are having a really bad time. Did you get any compromise from both or three sides to stop the killing, to stop the bad situation there and to get some help to the people over there?
Joint Special Envoy: As I said, I discussed it intensively with the Foreign Minister and with the President who are doing their own investigation and as they are saying: ‘They are our people’ and they are also concerned about them. And we discussed the question of humanitarian assistance, getting access to everyone in need, and making sure it reaches everyone. And I would be surprised if they are not taking measures to make sure those in Houleh get the assistance they need.
Question: During the meeting with Syrian officials have you agreed on a new timetable for the implementation of your plan?
Joint Special Envoy: Not specifically, we did not agree on a specific timetable, but I made it clear that it is not an open ended process and that time is coming, sooner rather than later, when the international community will need to make an assessment as to how things are going and what further actions or activities may be necessary. Thank you.
Foreign Secretary William Hague has announced the expulsion of the Syrian Chargé d’Affaires – Syria’s most senior diplomat in the United Kingdom – and two other diplomats from the Embassy.
The action was a direct response to the horrific killing of over 100 people including 49 children and 34 women in el-Houleh. It was an expression of the international outrage at the Syrian regime’s repression of its people, which continues even after the international community and United Nations Security Council’s condemnation.
The United Kingdom is taking this action in concert with partners across the world and sending a stark signal to President Assad and those around him that their actions have consequences and that they cannot act with impunity.
Making the announcement the Foreign Secretary said:
“We have been seeking in recent days to increase the pressure on the Assad regime and to get the message across to them that the world, the international community, is appalled by the violence that has continued, by the behaviour of the regime and by the murder of so many innocent people, including in the terrible massacre at El Houla which was reported at the end of last week. We want to get the message across to them that they have to choose, that time will run out for the Annan plan and that they have to make the choice about what they are going to do.
“So as part of that pressure today we have again called the Syrian Chargé in London here to the Foreign Office. He has been given seven days to leave the country. Two other Syrian diplomats will be expelled at the same time, and our allies and partners around the world will be taking similar action.
“Of course we will seek other ways to increase the pressure as well. We are discussing in the European Union a further tightening of sanctions on Syria. I have had the discussions with Russia yesterday… and the Russian Foreign Minister did agree with me yesterday that it is necessary to increase the pressure on all concerned, including the Assad regime, to implement the Annan plan – something that the regime has so far failed to do. We will continue to discuss this with Russia, since Russia has particular leverage over the regime and therefore a particular role in this crisis”.
The international community is continuing to seek ways to increase pressure on the Syrian regime to implement the Annan plan. Yesterday the Prime Minister spoke to President Hollande and UNSG Ban Ki-Moon.
Today the Foreign Secretary has discussed next steps with the Foreign Ministers of France, Australia and Canada and is currently having talks with Spanish Foreign Minister Garcia Margallo.
[local time] 22:03 The corpses of 13 handcuffed people were found in the Deir az-Zour village of Al-Sajar, Al-Arabiya TV quoted activists as saying.
21:33 French President Francois Hollande said on Tuesday that the use of armed force could be possible in Syria following the Houla massacre, but that it had to be carried out under UN auspices.
20:07 Arab foreign ministers will meet on Saturday for talks on the 15-month conflict in Syria that will be joined by international peace envoy Kofi Annan, Kuwait’s top diplomat Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Sabah said.
18:58 Greece said Tuesday it summoned Syria’s envoy to express disgust at the Syrian regime’s brutal killing of over 100 people in the town of Houla, but did not expel diplomats like other Western countries.
18:54 The death toll in Syria rose to 55 people, activists told Al-Arabiya.
18:45 Al-Jazeera is broadcasting live footage of an anti-regime protest in the Damascus area of As-Sayyeda Zeinab.
18:16 Russia on Tuesday called for an “objective and impartial” UN-led probe into last week’s massacre in the Syrian city of Houla that killed 108 people and left some 300 wounded.
17:31 The United States ordered Tuesday the expulsion of Syria’s top diplomat in Washington over the weekend massacre in Houla in which more than 90 people were killed, including at least 30 children.
17:23 Syria’s Tuesday death toll rose to 46 people killed by security forces, activists told Al-Arabiya television.
17:14 The success of Kofi Annan’s six-point peace plan depends on “the end of terrorism,” Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told the UN-Arab League envoy on Tuesday, state television reported.
16:30 Newly-appointed French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius in comments published Tuesday ruled out supplying the Syrian opposition with arms.
16:29 Syria’s main opposition coalition called on Tuesday for a UN Security Council resolution authorizing the “use of force” and welcomed the expulsion of top diplomats from several Western countries.
16:13 Syrian forces on Tuesday raided the city of Qatana near Damascus, killing and wounding people, Al-Arabiya television quoted the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression as saying.
16:03 Canada was expelling all Syrian diplomats in protest of the massacre of at least 108 people in the town of Houla, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Tuesday.
15:50 UN-Arab League peace envoy Kofi Annan urged Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to “act now” to end 15 months of bloodshed, during a meeting in Damascus on Tuesday.
15:41 At least 30 people were killed in violence in Syria on Tuesday, with clashes raging between regime troops and rebels , monitors said, and as envoy Kofi Annan held talks with President Bashar al-Assad.
14:52 Israeli President Shimon Peres said on Tuesday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has become the “murderer” of his people and they need help to free themselves from his regime.
14:37 Major Western powers said Tuesday they would expel Syria’s diplomatic envoys in protest at the weekend massacre in the town of Houla, in which more than 100 people were killed.
14:34 Iran on Tuesday repeated its backing for international envoy Kofi Annan’s six-point peace plan for Syria, calling it the only way to end the 15-month crisis as the former UN chief visited Damascus.
13:42 At least 19 people were killed in violence on Tuesday in Syria, where clashes between regime troops and rebels raged, monitors said, as UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan held talks with President Bashar al-Assad.
13:32 French President Francois Hollande said that Paris will host a Friends of Syria meeting in early July, AFP reported.
12:12 Most of the victims of the massacre in the Syrian town of Houla were summarily executed, the UN rights body said on Tuesday, amid global outrage over the killings.
12:08 Syrian forces on Tuesday killed 18 people, most of them in Aleppo, Homs and Daraa, Al-Jazeera television quoted the General Commission of the Syrian Revolution as saying.
11:35 Syrian forces shelled Homs’ town of Houla, Al-Jazeera quoted activists as saying.
10:36 Australia Tuesday expelled two Syrian diplomats in response to the massacre at Houla of more than 100 people with Foreign Minister Bob Carr saying he expected other countries to follow suit.
10:33 Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday received UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan for a meeting in Damascus, said state news agency SANA.
8:12 Activists said on Tuesday that Syrian forces shelled Qusayr’s town of Al-Boueida al-Sharkyeh and killed at least two people, Al-Jazeera reported.
7:45 Canada’s Foreign Minister on Monday called on the UN Security Council to take “stronger diplomatic action” against Syria following the Houla massacre of more than 100 people.
7:41 Pope Benedict XVI on Monday called for religious communities in Syria to cooperate to bring peace to the violence-wracked country.
Western powers expelled Syria’s envoys on Tuesday in outrage at a massacre of 108 people, almost half of them children, and peace envoy Kofi Annan urged President Bashar al-Assad to halt the bloodshed as “a tipping point” had been reached.
The killings in the town of Houla drew a chorus of condemnation from around the world, with the United Nations saying entire families were killed in their homes on Friday, some by army tanks and others probably by pro-Assad militia.
“Bashar al-Assad is the murderer of his people,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told Le Monde. “He must relinquish power. The sooner the better.”
U.S. State Department spokeswoman described an “absolutely indefensible, vile, despicable massacre against innocent children, women, shot at point blank range by regime thugs.”
U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous, whose monitors are in Syria, contradicted the Assad’s government assertion that the killings were carried out by terrorist gangs.
“Part of the victims had been killed by artillery shells, now that points ever so clearly to the responsibility of the government. Only the government has heavy weapons, has tanks, has howitzers,” Ladsous told reporters, adding:
“But there are also victims from individual weapons, victims from knife wounds and that of course is less clear but probably points the way to the (pro-Assad) shabbihas, the local militia.”
The United States, France, Britain, Canada, Germany, Italy, Spain,Australia and Bulgaria gave Syria’s envoys hours or days to leave their capitals in a coordinated move meant to isolate Assad further diplomatically.
Some had already expelled ambassadors or downgraded ties and so, like Washington, ordered out less senior charges d’affaires.
Western countries that have called for Assad to step down hope the Houla killings will tip global opinion, notably that of Syria’s main protector Russia, towards more effective action.
The killings have contributed to doubt about whether a peace plan backed by Annan, a former U.N. secretary general, has any chance of success. Some of Assad’s opponents say Annan’s plan is only making the situation worse by buying Assad time.
“WE ARE AT A TIPPING POINT”
Annan said that in his talks with the Syrian leader in Damascus he “conveyed in frank terms the grave concern of the international community about the violence in Syria, including the recent shocking events in Houla.”
“We are at a tipping point. The Syrian people do not want the future to be one of bloodshed and division. Yet the killings continue and the abuses are still with us today.”
More than 10,000 people have died in the uprising against Assad and a crackdown by his loyalists, which began in March last year as part of a wave of revolts across the Arab world.
Western leaders have loudly called for Assad to go for months, but have so far shown little appetite for the sort of armed intervention that toppled Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi last year. Any suggestion that force might be threatened has been blocked at the U.N. Security Council by Moscow and Beijing.
French President Francois Hollande said armed intervention could not be ruled out, but only with Security Council support.
“Military intervention is not excluded, provided it is carried out under the auspices of international law, namely a Security Council resolution,” he told France 2 TV. “It is down to myself and others to convince Russia and China, and also to find a solution which is not necessarily a military one.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the United States had not taken any options – including military intervention – off the table, but believed armed action was not the right course at present because it would lead to greater carnage and chaos.
Moscow backed a non-binding U.N. Security Council text on Sunday criticizing the use of artillery and tanks in Houla, but has twice vetoed tougher resolutions. It has shown little sign of changing its stance this week.
Vladimir Chizhov, Moscow’s envoy to the EU, criticized the Western expulsions of Syrian envoys: “I believe it rarely is conducive to maintaining dialogue with the other side.”
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow was “alarmed that some countries … are starting to use this event as an excuse to put forth demands of the need for military action in an attempt to put pressure on the U.N. Security Council.”
“We are troubled by the ceaseless attempts to frustrate Kofi Annan’s peace plan.”
Annan urged the armed opposition to cease violence but appealed first to the government, as the stronger party, to take “bold steps now – not tomorrow, now” by stopping all military operations and showing “maximum restraint”.
The plan calls for the government to withdraw all heavy weapons from towns and cities, followed by a cessation of fighting and dialogue with the opposition, but has stalled at the first hurdle.
Assad’s government denied having anything to do with the deaths in Houla, or even having heavy weapons in the area, despite the contrary evidence found by United Nations monitors.
Assad himself repeated to Annan Syria’s line that “terrorist groups” – Syria’s term for the rebels – were stepping up killings and kidnappings across the country.
Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad told reporters: “Syria has not committed a single violation of Annan’s plan or the initial understanding between Syria and the United Nations.
“At the same time, the other party has not committed to a single point. This means that there is a decision by the armed groups and the opposition not to implement Annan’s plan and to make it fail.”
The estimated number of internally displaced Syrians has more than doubled to 500,000 since an April 12 ceasefire and the flow of refugees abroad has gathered pace again, U.N. officials said on Tuesday.
SPENT SHELLS AND TANK TRACKS
U.N. monitors found spent shells and fresh tank tracks in Houla, evidence of weaponry that Syria’s lightly-armed rebels do not have in their arsenal.
But the U.N. human rights office in Geneva said the bulk of the 108 mostly civilian dead in Houla had been executed at close range. Survivors told U.N. investigators that the killers were pro-Assad “shabbiha” militiamen, who in the past have assaulted and intimidated hotbeds of opposition to Assad.
“What is very clear is that this was an absolutely abominable event that took place in Houla, and at least a substantial part of it were summary executions of civilians – women and children,” said Rupert Colville, spokesman for the U.N. human rights office in Geneva.
He said 49 children and 32 women were among the dead. “At this point, it looks like entire families were shot in their houses.”
The report was at odds with a note sent by Syria to the Security Council that said: “Not a single tank entered the region and the Syrian army was in a state of self-defense …
“The terrorist armed groups … entered with the purpose of killing and the best proof of that is the killing by knives, which is the signature of terrorist groups who massacre according to the Islamist way.”
Gruesome video footage distributed by opposition activists has helped to shake world opinion out of growing indifference to a conflict in which more than 10,000 have been killed.
Opposition sources said rebels had killed 20 soldiers in heavy fighting close to the border withTurkey.
They said six civilians and six rebels, including two commanders, had also been killed over the past 24 hours in fighting that began when the army launched an offensive with tanks and helicopters to retake the region around Atareb.
Western states announce they are expelling senior Syrian diplomats following the killing of 108 people in the Houla region of Syria on Friday.
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.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
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.
President Assad said the success of Mr Annan’s peace plan depended on halting what he called terrorist actions and stopping arms-smuggling.
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.
Lina Sinjab BBC News
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.