Major Western Powers Expel Syrian Envoys over Houla Massacre

Posted on: May 29, 2012 at 23:00
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.

The United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain as well as Canada, Australia, The Netherlands and Bulgaria announced decisions to expel ambassadors or top envoys.

The coordinated move followed mounting international outrage over the massacre in the central town of Houla, in which at least 108 people, including 49 children, were killed.

''We hold the Syrian government responsible for this slaughter of innocent lives,'' U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, informing charge d'affaires Zuheir Jabbour that he had 72 hours to leave the country.

Nuland said the expulsion was carried out in coordination with the other major countries.

''We encourage all countries to condemn the actions of the Assad regime through similar action,'' Nuland said in a statement.

''This massacre is the most unambiguous indictment to date of the Syrian government's flagrant violations of its U.N. Security Council obligations... along with the regime's ongoing threat to peace and security,'' Nuland said.

Her statement said President Bashar Assad's regime had violated U.N. Security Council resolutions 2042 and 2042 under which monitors were sent to Syria to observe an April 12 ceasefire, which has been broken daily.

She said U.N. observers confirmed that more than 90 people, including at least 30 children under the age of 10, had died May 25 in the village of Houla ''after the vicious assault involving tanks and artillery.''

She added these are ''weapons that only the (Assad) regime possesses.''

''There are also reports that many families were summarily executed in their homes by regime forces,'' Nuland said.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the expulsion of the top Syrian diplomat in London, charge d'affaires Ghassan Dalla, and two other envoys would send a ''stark message'' that time was running out for Assad.

The move was part of the increased pressure by the international community on senior figures in the regime to ''get the message across to them that they have to choose, that time will run out for Assad,'' Hague said.

''As part of that pressure today we have again called the Syrian charge d'affaires in London here to the Foreign Office. He has been given seven days to leave the country,'' Hague said.

''Our allies and partners around the world will be taking similar action and announcing it today -- including France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United States, Canada and Australia.''

Syria had already withdrawn its ambassador from London.

Canada said it was expelling every Syrian diplomat in the capital.

''Today, Canada is expelling all Syrian diplomats remaining in Ottawa. They and their families have five days to leave Canada,'' Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said in a statement.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said: ''We are aiming to ensure that our unmistakable message does not fall on deaf ears in Damascus.''

In Paris, President Francois Hollande told journalists that France's decision to expel Ambassador Lamia Shakkur, which would be formally communicated to her on Tuesday or Wednesday, came amid talks with Britain, Russia and the U.N. on the next steps to take in the Syria crisis.

''I had a conversation yesterday with David Cameron, the British prime minister. Laurent Fabius, the (French) foreign minister, had a discussion with the secretary general of the United Nations and we agreed on a number of ways to put pressure on Syria,'' he said.

''We're also in talks with Russia, which plays a role, and I will meet with President (Vladimir) Putin on Friday.''

Putin, whose country has vetoed U.N. resolutions on the Syria crisis but has sought to distance itself from the regime following the Houla slaughter, is due in France on Friday.

He and Hollande are scheduled to meet for a working dinner that evening.

Hollande also announced that Paris would host a new meeting of the Friends of Syria group in early July.

Meanwhile Fabius, France's new foreign minister, forcefully condemned Assad and called for his departure in an interview published Tuesday.

''Assad is the murderer of his people. He must leave power... the sooner the better,'' Fabius told Le Monde newspaper, echoing the views of the previous right-wing administration of former president Nicolas Sarkozy.

''If Bashar Assad falls, who will replace him? We need to find a credible political transition involving the departure of Bashar Assad while avoiding any 'Iraqization' of the country,'' he said.

But he ruled out supplying the Syrian opposition with arms.

''We're certainly not there,'' he said when asked about the possibility.

''No state is willing to consider today a ground operation'' in Syria. ''The risks of regional extension would be formidable, especially in Lebanon.''

Meanwhile, The Netherlands declared Syria's ambassador to the country as ''persona non-grata,'' to protest the Houla massacre, the Dutch foreign affairs minister said.

''I have decided to declare the Syrian ambassador as a persona non-grata,'' Uri Rosenthal said in a statement, adding that ''we cannot co-operate with a country headed by such a president,'' referring to Assad.

In addition to the massacre, Rosenthal said the decision was also the result of Syria's non-cooperation with U.N. envoy Kofi Annan and the resolutions of the U.N. Security Council.

The decision means Syrian ambassador Mohammad Ayman Jamil Soussan, who lives in Brussels and whose embassy represents Damascus both in Belgium and the Netherlands, will not be received by the Dutch foreign minister or its foreign affairs department, Rosenthal's statement said.

The decision was taken in consultation with European Union partners and the ambassador will be informed on Tuesday evening.

For its part, Bulgaria's foreign ministry announced Tuesday it was expelling Syria's interim ambassador and two other diplomats to protest the Houla massacre.

Syria's charge d'affaires in Sofia, Salah Sukkar, and the two other Syrian diplomats will be notified later in the day that they should leave Bulgaria within the next 72 hours, the ministry said in a statement.

''This measure is in response to the brutal killings by the regime in Damascus of over 100 people in the town of Houla,'' it added.

The ministry also announced it would temporarily shut Bulgaria's embassy in Damascus -- one of the last to remain open in the Syrian capital -- and recall its ambassador and all its diplomatic staff from the conflict-torn country.

Sukkar had already been summoned to the foreign ministry on Monday, and a small crowd of Syrians shouted ''Killers!'' at him on his way out.

The Syrian community in Bulgaria had planned to stage sit-ins outside the ministry starting Wednesday to push for Sukkar's expulsion.

Source:Agence France Presse
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