Diplomats from Syria expelled by U.S., allies / Outrage grows after slaughter of civilians (WASHINGTON TIMES) By Ashish Kumar Sen 05/30/12)
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International outrage over violence in Syria neared the boiling point
Tuesday as the U.S. and other Western nations expelled Syrian
diplomats for Friday’s massacre of at least 108 people, mostly women
and children, in a western village in the strife-racked country.
The Obama administration ordered Zuheir Jabbour, Syria’s top diplomat
in Washington, to leave the U.S. within 72 hours.
Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Spain also
announced they were kicking out Syrian diplomats in a coordinated
effort to pressure Syrian President Bashar Assad to end a bloody
crackdown on the 15-month-old uprising against his regime.
Friday’s slaughter in Houla in the western Homs province, where the
U.N. confirmed that 34 women and 49 children were among the 108 slain
civilians, brought the most vehement international condemnation of
the Assad regime to date.
“We hold the Syrian government responsible for this slaughter of
innocent lives,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said
Tuesday. “This massacre is the most unambiguous indictment to date of
the Syrian government’s flagrant violations of its U.N. Security
Council obligations … along with the regime’s ongoing threat to peace
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the international
community is aiming to increase pressure on the Assad regime “to get
the message across to them that the world … is appalled by the
violence that has continued, by the behavior of the regime and by the
murder of so many innocent people, including in the terrible
More than 9,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in Syria
and tens of thousands displaced since the uprising against Mr. Assad
started 15 months ago, according to the U.N.
At a ‘tipping point’
The international pressure mounted as the U.N.’s special envoy, Kofi
Annan, met Mr. Assad in Damascus in a desperate effort to salvage a
peace plan put forward in March.
The six-point U.N.-brokered peace plan calls on the Syrian government
to withdraw its troops and heavy weaponry from populated areas.
Mr. Annan, a former U.N. secretary-general who has described the
massacre in Houla as an “appalling crime,” said after his meeting
with Mr. Assad that Syria is at a “tipping point.”
“The Syrian people do not want the future to be one of bloodshed and
division, yet the killings continue and the abuses are still with us
today,” he added.
But Syrian activists expressed doubt about the Annan plan.
“We think the regime has from Day One done a lot of things to make
sure that the [Annan] plan will get killed,” Jabber Za´aen, a
spokesman for the Local Coordination Committees in Syria, a network
of activists, said in a phone interview with reporters.
Mr. Assad and the rebels signed the peace deal six weeks ago, but the
bloodshed has not slowed. U.N. observers in Syria have reported
continued violence, which they have barely managed to avoid.
A U.N. spokesman said most of the villagers slaughtered in Houla had
been executed in their homes.
“It appears that most of the people who were killed were summarily
executed,” said Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the U.N. Office of
the High Commissioner for Human Rights. “The fact that so many
children seem to have been ruthlessly killed is truly appalling.”
Witnessing the horror
Witnesses blamed pro-government thugs known as “shabiha” for the
“There have been at least two episodes where shabiha militia,
according to the local people, entered homes in Houla and slaughtered
people in their own houses,” Mr. Colville said in a telephone
interview from Geneva.
U.N. investigators found that fewer than 20 of the victims had been
killed by tank and artillery fire.
Most of the victims were in Taldaou, one of the villages in Houla,
which is a collection of villages and towns.
An elderly survivor of the massacre told Human Rights Watch how she
hid behind a door in her home after armed men barged in and started
shouting at her family.
“After three minutes, I heard all my family members screaming and
yelling. The children, all aged between 10 and 14, were crying,” said
the woman, whose name was not revealed but is a member of the Abdel
She said she heard several gunshots as she crawled on the floor to
see what was happening. After the gunmen left, she peered outside to
find all of her family members had bullet wounds in their heads and
U.N. investigators do not have enough evidence to link the Houla
massacre to the Assad government; however, the shabiha have been part
of the regime’s crackdown on multiple occasions.
“The shabiha sometimes have acted in concert with the armed forces,
and the armed forces were clearly in action with their artillery and
tanks” in Houla, said Mr. Colville.
A call for action
Mr. Hague, Britain’s foreign secretary, said the international
community is looking at different ways to increase pressure on the
Assad regime, including discussions in the European Union to tighten
“We will continue to discuss this with Russia, since Russia has
particular leverage over the regime and, therefore, a particular role
in this crisis,” he said.
Russia, which sells arms to Syria and is a close ally of Mr. Assad,
has blocked U.N. resolutions calling for action against the regime.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov this week said there was no
doubt that Syrian forces had used tanks and artillery, but he blamed
both sides for the massacre. The Assad government says “terrorists”
are to blame.
Meanwhile, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney welcomed the
expulsion of the Syrian diplomats, but said it underscores the need
for “more assertive measures to end the Assad regime.”
“President Obama’s lack of leadership has resulted in a policy of
paralysis that has watched Assad slaughter 10,000 individuals,” Mr.
He said the U.S. should pressure Russia to stop selling arms to the
Assad regime and stop blocking U.N. efforts to end the violence. He
also suggested that the U.S. work with its international partners to
arm the opposition.
Another Republican critic repeated his call for arming Syria’s rebels.
“This latest attempt to win over Russia, like the failed Annan plan,
is but a rationalization for inaction,” said Sen. John McCain of
Arizona. “It is clear that nothing in Syria will change for the
better until the balance of power on the ground shifts against Assad.”
‘A major shift’
Amnesty International said Russia and China must stop shielding Syria.
“Now is the time for Russia to stop protecting the Syrian government
from U.N. Security Council action that can end the violence,” said
Sanjeev Bery, Amnesty International USA’s Middle East and North
Africa advocacy director.
The Security Council has demanded that the Syrian government stop
using heavy weapons and immediately pull back its troops from
population centers. The council is expected to meet Wednesday in New
York to discuss Syria.
The Houla massacre could mark a turning point in the international
community’s response to the Assad regime’s bloody crackdown on the
“The massacre in Houla was a major shift for the international
community, because they have been running away from facing the
reality of what is happening on the ground,” Khaled Saleh, a
representative of the Syrian Revolution General Commission, told
reporters in a phone briefing Tuesday.
“But when you have [more than 30] children massacred, I think the
international community understood that it’s time to start putting
more pressure on the regime,” he added.
On Tuesday, Syrian troops had surrounded Houla.
Lt. Col. Qassim Saad al-Din, a spokesman for the Free Syrian Army,
which is made up of Syrian army deserters, said some residents had
fled following the massacre, but those trapped in Houla were living
in siegelike conditions.
The Assad regime is using helicopters against civilians and knives to
kill children as young as 3 years old, said Col. al-Din.
“The United Nations and the international community have not stepped
up to their job to protect civilians,” he added.
c Susan Crabtree contributed to this report. (© 2012 The Washington
Times, LLC. 05/30/12)
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