West expels Syrian envoys over Houla massacreAgence France-Presse . Washington
Western powers ordered Tuesday the expulsion of Syrian diplomats as they blamed the Houla massacre squarely on president Bashar al-Assad’s regime and warned him that time was running out.
Meanwhile, at least 19 people were killed in violence on Tuesday in Syria, where clashes between regime troops and rebels raged, monitors said, as envoy Kofi Annan held talks with the president, Bashar al-Assad.
The success of Annan’s six-point peace plan depends on ‘the end of terrorism,’ Assad told the UN-Arab League envoy on Tuesday, state television reported.
‘The success of the Annan plan depends on the end of terrorist acts and those who support them and the smuggling of weapons,’ Assad was quoted as saying.
The joint action followed mounting international outrage over the massacre on Friday in the central town of Houla, in which at least 108 people, including 49 children, were killed, according to UN figures.
Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United States acted in concert to step up the pressure on Assad’s regime after the killings, many of them summary executions blamed on pro-government militia.
‘We hold the Syrian government responsible for this slaughter of innocent lives,’ said US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, telling Syrian charge d’affaires Zuheir Jabbour that he had 72 hours to leave the country.
Bulgaria also announced it was expelling Syria’s interim ambassador and two other diplomats to protest the brutal killings.
The 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’ to Assad.
Canada said it was expelling every Syrian diplomat in the capital.
The 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 UN on the next steps to take in the Syria crisis.
Putin, whose country has vetoed UN 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.
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