Asked whether Turkey has any plans to expel Syrian diplomats, a Turkish official said that the Syrian Embassy in Ankara already has very few diplomats. “Long before the Syrian uprising erupted one-and-a half-years ago, Syria did not assign an ambassador to Turkey and we also did not demand such a thing from them,” the official maintained.
The ambassador to Germany, Radwan Loutfi, was given 72 hours to leave Germany on Tuesday. Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Germany and its allies hope “that this unambiguous message does not fall on deaf ears in Damascus.” The Italian Foreign Ministry said Amb. Khaddour Hassan was called to the ministry and informed of his new status -- which was also extended to an unspecified number of Syrian functionaries. The killings Friday in Houla, a collection of farming villages in Syria's Homs province, were one of the deadliest single events in the 15-month-old uprising against President Bashar Assad's rule.
The UN said 49 children and 34 women were among the 108 people killed. French President Francois Hollande told reporters Tuesday that Ambassador Lamia Shakkour will be notified “today or tomorrow” that she must leave.
Hollande said that after high-level discussions with British Prime Minister David Cameron and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, it had been decided to deploy “a certain number of ... pressure tactics,” against Syria, including the expulsion of the ambassador. Phones at Syria’s Embassy in Paris were not being answered Tuesday.
British officials said Tuesday that the UK is expelling three Syrian diplomats in protest at the killings, among them Charge d’Affaires Ghassan Dalla -- the country’s top ranking diplomat in London. The officials demanded anonymity because they said they were not allowed to discuss the action ahead of a planned public statement from Foreign Secretary William Hague.
Hague confirmed that the United States, Canada, Germany, Spain, France, Italy and Australia were all taking action to expel the diplomats. In Canberra, Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr said Charge d’Affaires Jawdat Ali, the most senior Syrian diplomat in Australia, is to be expelled along with another diplomat from the Syrian Embassy. He said they were told to leave the country within 72 hours, in response to the massacre in Houla. “This is the most effective way we’ve got of sending a message of revulsion of what has happened in Syria,” Carr said.
In a statement, he called the killings a “hideous and brutal crime” and said Australia would not engage with the Syrian government unless it abides by a UN cease-fire plan. In Vienna, Foreign Ministry spokesman Nikolaus Lutterotti said the Syrian ambassador is being summoned to the ministry where officials will deliver a very hard protest about the massacre.
When asked if the expulsions were EU-wide, Lutterotti said this had not yet been decided. He said the ambassador to Austria would not be expelled as he holds an additional function as the representative to the UN organizations in Vienna.
The UN estimates 9,000 people have been killed since the uprising began in March 2011.
Hollande said Tuesday that Paris will host a meeting in early July of the so-called Friends of Syria seeking a diplomatic solution to the conflict. The ambassador’s expulsion came amid increasing diplomatic efforts to end the bloodshed in Syria and put pressure on Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Many Syrian opposition figures are based in France, Syria’s onetime colonial ruler.
The Syrian ambassador to Britain left the country in March. The United States and Britain have closed their embassies in Syria.
UN: Most of 108 killed in Syria were executed
The UN’s human rights office on Tuesday added grim new details about the massacre of more than 100 people in a rural area in Syria last week, saying that most of the dead were shot at close range, some of them women and children killed in their homes.
Tehran meanwhile admitted on Sunday that Iranian troops were in Syria to defend the regime that has failed to end the 14-month political crisis in the country and faces a resilient resistance from the opposition.Speaking to Iran’s ISNA news agency, Gen. Ismail Qa’ani, the deputy commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Qods Force, said Iran sent troops to Syria to help Assad.
The brutality of the Houla killings, documented in gruesome amateur videos of scores of bodies laid out before burial, sparked widespread international outrage and raised new questions about the ability of an international plan to end 15-months of violence in Syria. The UN said that at least 108 people, including 34 women and 49 children, were killed in an attack that began on Friday and continued through the night on Houla, a group of poor farming villages northwest of the central Syrian city of Homs.
On Tuesday, spokesman Rupert Colville of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said UN monitors who visited the area found that fewer than 20 of the dead were killed by artillery fire. The rest appeared to have been shot at close range. “What is very clear is this was an absolutely abominable event that took place in Houla, and at least a substantial part of it was summary executions of civilians, women and children,” he told reporters in Geneva. “At this point, it looks like entire families were shot in their houses.”
Colville said information from UN observers and other sources indicated that many of the victims were killed in the village of Taldaw in two separate incidents. Locals blamed the killings on pro-regime militias known as shabiha, which sometimes act “in concert” with government forces, he said. He said a fuller investigation was needed before he could comment on that, and called on Syria to allow free access to UN investigators. The killings have emerged as a potential turning point in Syria’s conflict, prompting the strongest condemnation yet from Russia, a staunch Syrian ally.
Annan meets Assad
International envoy Kofi Annan met with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus on Tuesday, Syria’s state news agency reported without giving further details. Annan is trying to salvage a peace plan for Syria based on a cease-fire that was supposed to begin on April 12 but has never really taken hold, casting doubt on the rest of the plan.