Syria declares envoys persona non grataAgence France-Presse . Damascus
Syria’s government declared on Tuesday that the ambassadors and staff of several Western countries as well as Turkey were persona non grata while Syrian troops kept up their offensive against rebel strongholds, seizing a town in the central province of Hama, as at least 10 people were killed nationwide, a human rights watchdog said.
‘Some states recently informed heads of our diplomatic missions and embassy staff that they are unwelcome,’ the foreign ministry said in a statement, adding Syria was now designating the ambassadors of the United States, Britain, France and Turkey, among others, as persona non grata.
The ambassadors of Canada, Italy and Spain were also named in the statement, as well as various embassy staff members from Belgium, Bulgaria and Germany.
The statement concluded by saying that Syria ‘still believes in the importance of dialogue based on principles of equality and mutual respect’ and that diplomacy is a ‘necessary tool’ for countries to resolve disputes.
‘We hope that those countries which initiated this step will adopt the same principles, allowing for relations to be normalised,’ it added.
A slew of mainly Western countries expelled Syrian diplomats in the wake of the Houla massacre of more than 100 people in late May, one of the worst atrocities in the country since an uprising broke out in March 2011.
Britain dismissed Syria’s decision as a ‘reciprocal gesture,’ and said that it had already pulled its diplomatic staff out of Damascus three months ago.
In a statement, the Foreign Office said it had expelled Syria’s charge d’affaires and two other embassy staff on May 29 as a ‘direct response to the horrific’ Houla massacre.
‘The Syrian government’s decision today to designate the British ambassador as persona non grata appears to be a reciprocal gesture. The UK government has already withdrawn all diplomatic staff from Syria on March 1,’ it said.
Government forces carried out a ‘huge military operation’ before dawn in the Kfar Oweid district of Idlib province in the northwest, killing four civilians, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Troops clashed with rebel fighters in several other areas of the province, which borders Turkey and is major focus of operations for the rebel Free Syrian Army, the Britain-based watchdog said.
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