Syrian Diplomats Expelled In Coordinated Western Action

Syria suffered a storm of diplomatic protest on Tuesday when 11 Western nations, including Britain and America, expelled the country's ambassadors or formally rebuking its envoys following the Houla massacre.

Mr Annan met Mr Assad in Damascus yesterday to urge the full implementation of the peace plan

Syria suffered a storm of diplomatic protest on Tuesday when 11 Western nations, including Britain and America, expelled the country's ambassadors or formally rebuking its envoys following the Houla massacre.

President Bashar al-Assad's representatives in capitals ranging from Washington to Berlin and from London to Canberra were ordered to pack up and leave as the Western powers collectively ostracised his regime.

This "coordinated move" to downgrade ties with Syria was designed to "send a stark message" in the wake of the Houla killings, said a Foreign Office spokesman.

Over 80 of those who died in that "abominable" incident were "summarily executed" in two separate massacres last Friday, according to the United Nations.

Rupert Colville, spokesman for the UN High Commission for Human Rights, said that fewer than 20 of the 108 victims were killed by tank or artillery fire. The rest were shot at close range, with 49 children and 34 women counted among the dead. "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," said Mr Colville.

"At this point, it looks like entire families were shot in their houses." Local people blamed the pro-regime al-Shabiha militia, he added.

America held the "Syrian government responsible for this slaughter of innocent lives", said a State Department spokesman, adding that Syria's Charge d'Affaires, Zuheir Jabbour, would be given three days to leave Washington.

On Monday, Britain called in the most senior diplomat left at the Syrian Embassy in London to receive a formal protest. On Tuesday, Ghassan Dalla, the Charge d'Affaires, was summoned back to the Foreign Office and given seven days to leave, along with two of his colleagues.

Mr Assad's regime withdrew Syria's ambassador from London in March. The impending departures mean that Syria's embassy in Belgrave Square will be down to a skeleton staff of four diplomats.

Britain decided to close its own mission in Damascus and withdraw all representatives in March.

William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, said the expulsions were intended to "get the message across" to Mr Assad that the "international community is appalled by the violence that has continued, by the behaviour of the regime and by the murder of so many innocent people".

Britain's primary goal was to ensure that Mr Assad obeyed the six-point peace plan devised by Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary general.

"We will seek other ways to increase the pressure as well. We are discussing in the European Union a further tightening of sanctions on Syria," added Mr Hague.

Meanwhile, the French government denounced the "murderous folly" of Mr Assad and ordered the Syrian ambassador to leave Paris. Germany, Italy and Spain all told Syria's envoys to leave their respective capitals.

Bulgaria called in the Syrian ambassador and ordered him out of Sofia. Australia expelled the Charge d'Affaires and one other diplomat. Canada decided to remove every Syrian representative from Ottawa. Syria's ambassador in Brussels, who is accredited to both Belgium and Holland, was declared persona non grata by both host governments.

Mr Annan met Mr Assad in Damascus yesterday to urge the full implementation of the peace plan. "He conveyed in frank terms his view to President Assad that the six-point plan cannot succeed without bold steps to stop the violence and release detainees, and stressed the importance of full implementation," said Mr Annan's spokesman.

However, state media reported that the regime could not press ahead with the peace plan until opposition "terrorism" came to an end.