UK, France and Australia expel Syrian diplomats after massacre in Houla

 

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France, Britain and Australia are expelling senior Syrian diplomats, officials said today, increasing pressure on Damascus after a massacre in which the United Nations says families were shot at close range in their homes.

The killings on 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 today 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 today.

British officials said 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.

AP

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