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Scores of Syrians Killed After Houla Massacre, NATO Expels Syrian Ambassadors, a Step Towards Using Military Force


Fresh clashes leave dozens more dead in Syrian cities

New clashes broke out Wednesday between Syrian troops and anti-regime rebels near Damascus and in Homs province, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, with an estimated 39 people killed in several Syrian cities in recent days.

By News Wires (text)

AFP - Fierce fighting erupted on Wednesday between regime troops and rebels near Damascus and in Homs province, a watchdog said, while reporting 39 more people killed across Syria.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said five people were killed in the Damascus suburb of Douma, a hotbed of anti-regime sentiment, while a civilian was shot dead in Daraya, in the same province.

Also in Damascus province, government troops opened fire on mourners attending a mass funeral in Al-Diabiya, killing four, said the Britain-based watchdog.

In central Homs province, four people died at Qusayr, scene of earlier explosions, while another five people, including a regular soldier, were killed in the city of Homs, it said.

Two people were killed in the region of Hama when fighting took place in the town of Kafarzita between troops and rebels. Later, in Hama city, residents held a general strike to mourn the deaths of the two men.

In Jabal al-Zawiya, a rebel commander was killed in northeastern Idlib.

A sniper shot dead a man at Aleppo in the north, while unidentified gunmen killed an 18-year-old in eastern Deir Ezzor. A rebel fighter was also killed in the same province, the Observatory added.

In the same region, visiting UN monitors condemned the killing of 13 people whose bodies were found late Tuesday at Assukar, near Deir Ezzor, many of whom had been shot at close range, they said.

A blast struck a pipeline in Deir Ezzor, according to the state news agency SANA, which added that the explosion led to "a fire in the area."

Blaming "armed terrorist groups," SANA said this was the second time the pipeline was targeted.

At least 14 regular troops, the Observatory said, were killed on Wednesday when checkpoints in Idlib and Hama were targeted.

On Tuesday a total of 98 people, including 61 civilians, were killed in violence across Syria amid raging clashes between regime troops and rebels, the Observatory said.

More than 13,000 people have been killed, most of them civilians, since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's regime erupted in March last year, according to the Observatory.

UN-backed action in Syria is an option, Hollande says

France 24, 29/5/2012

By News Wires (text)


French President Francois Hollande said on Tuesday that the use of armed force could be possible in Syria following the Houla massacre, but that it had to be carried out under UN auspices.

"An armed intervention is not excluded on the condition that it is carried out with respect to international law, meaning after deliberation by the United Nations Security Council," Hollande said in a television interview.

France on Tuesday expelled the Syrian ambassador as did other world powers in protest over the killing of at least 108 people, nearly half of them children, during an assault by regime forces last week near the town of Houla.

"We also have to find a solution that would not be strictly military. Pressure must be applied now to get rid of the regime of Bashar al-Assad," Hollande added.

He also called for stronger sanctions and the need to talk with Damascus ally Russia.

"I will talk about it with President (Vladimir) Putin when he comes to Paris on Friday. He, along with China, has been the most reluctant on the question of sanctions. And we must convince them that it is not possible to allow the Assad regime to massacre its own people," said the new French leader who took office on May 15.

"I could not fail to react to this massacre in Syria," Hollande said, stressing that his decision was taken in concert with other heads of state.

Paris also announced that it would host a new meeting of the Friends of Syria group in July, which Hollande said would help organise the Syrian opposition so it "can take over from the regime."

UN envoy Kofi Annan warned Tuesday that Syria was "at a tipping point" after talks with Assad in efforts to rescue his troubled peace plan that was supposed to begin with a ceasefire from April 12 that has never taken hold.

U.S. State Department expels top Syrian diplomat in Washington

WASHINGTON, May 29, 2012 (Xinhua) --

The U.S. State Department said on Tuesday that it is expelling Syria's charge d'affaires in Washington, in protest of a Friday massacre in the Syrian village of Houla that left more than 100 people killed.

"We hold the Syrian government responsible for this slaughter of innocent lives," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

The Department said that charge d'affaires Zuheir Jabbour, Syria's top diplomat in Washington, has 72 hours to leave the United States.

Nuland said that the U.S. action was taken in coordination with countries including Australia, Canada, Spain, Britain, Italy, France and Germany, which also announced expulsion of Syrian ambassadors or charges d'affaires from their capitals.

Nuland called the Friday incident "the most unambiguous indictment to date" of Damascus' failure to implement UN resolutions designed for a peaceful resolution of the ongoing conflict in the Middle East country.

She claimed that the attack involved "tanks and artillery," which are weapons only possessed by the Syrian government forces.

The UN Security Council on Sunday condemned "in the strongest possible terms" the killings in Houla, saying that those responsible for the massacre should be held accountable.

However, the Syrian government denied that its troops have anything to do with the horrifying carnage in Houla, and blamed " hundreds of heavily-armed gunmen" for the mass killings.

"We condemn with the strongest term this terrorist massacre," said Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdessi at a press conference on Sunday, adding that the government has formed a military judicial committee to conduct investigations and that the results would come out within three days.

Also on Sunday, Bashar Ja'afari, the Syrian permanent representative to the UN, said the massacre was "appalling and unjustifiable," and was "condemned by my government in the strongest terms possible."

He said those responsible for the crime would be brought to justice by the Syrian government.

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday called for an unbiased probe into the Houla carnage during a phone discussion with UN-Arab League joint special envoy for Syria Kofi Annan.

Lavrov said on the phone that "an objective and impartial" investigation into the tragedy with support from the UN Observation Mission in Syria is needed, according to a release on the Russian foreign ministry's website.

He also noted that Russia was alarmed by some countries' attempt to "manipulate these events as a pretext" for an external military intervention in Syria.

European nations expel Syrian envoys after massacre

France 24, 29/5/2012

By News Wires (text)

AP -

Governments around the world expelled Syrian ambassadors and diplomats Tuesday, an unusual, coordinated blow to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime following a gruesome massacre that the United Nations said involved close-range shootings of scores of children and parents in their homes.

The United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands took action Tuesday against Syrian diplomats. Britain’s foreign secretary said the countries involved in Tuesday’s expulsions would also push for tougher sanctions against Syria.

The move came after the killings Friday in Houla, a collection of farming villages in Syria’s Homs province -- one of the deadliest single events in a 15-month-old uprising against Assad that has killed thousands.

A U.N. report Tuesday said 49 children and 34 women were among the 108 people who died, but it did not decisively say who carried out most of the killings.

“This is the most effective way we’ve got of sending a message of revulsion of what has happened in Syria,” Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr said in Canberra. In a statement, he called the Houla killings a “hideous and brutal crime” and said Australia would not engage with the Syrian government unless it abides by a U.N. cease-fire plan.

Diplomats at the U.N., the European Union and the Arab League have been working since the Houla massacre to coordinate new action against Syria’s government, French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said.

It was not clear whether other countries -- among them Syrian allies such as Russia -- would join in the expulsions. Russian President Vladimir Putin is traveling to Germany and France this week and is likely to come under even greater pressure to soften his Syria-supportive stance.

“We have to continue our work with the Russians,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague said. “We will continue to discuss this with Russia. Russia has particular leverage on the regime and therefore has a particular role in this crisis.”

Hague said that the situation in Syria is more complicated than what international powers faced in Libya last year, when the United Nations approved intervention against dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s regime.

The State Department said Tuesday that the charge d’affaires at the Syrian Embassy has been given 72 hours to leave the United States. Syria has not had an ambassador in the United States since the previous envoy left last year to take another post.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the U.S. holds “the Syrian government responsible for this slaughter of innocent lives.”

Britain is expelling three Syrian diplomats to protest the Houla killings, among them Charge d’Affaires Ghassan Dalla -- the country’s top ranking diplomat in London.

In Canada, Foreign Minister John Baird said all Syrian diplomats and their families have five days to leave. Another Syrian diplomat expected in Canada will be refused entry.

In France, Syria’s former colonial ruler, new President Francois Hollande showed that he is not backing down from his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy’s tough line on Syria.

Ambassador Lamia Shakkour was notified Tuesday that she is persona non grata, along with two other embassy officials, the French Foreign Ministry said. Hollande said Shakkour is being expelled but that the timing is complicated by her dual status as Syria’s ambassador to Paris-based UNESCO.

Hollande said that after high-level discussions with British Prime Minister David Cameron and U.N. 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.

Germany on Tuesday announced Syria’s ambassador, Radwan Loutfi, had 72 hours to leave. Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Germany and its allies hope “that this unambiguous message does not fall on deaf ears in Damascus.”

“The Syrian regime bears responsibility for the terrible events in Houla,” Westerwelle said in a statement. Westerwelle said Germany will push for the U.N. Security Council to consider the situation in Syria again.

“It has been clear not just since Houla that Syria has no future under Assad,” Westerwelle said. “He must clear the way for peaceful change in Syria.”

The Italian Foreign Ministry said Ambassador Khaddour Hassan was summoned and informed that he must leave. Spain said it was giving Syrian Ambassador Hussam Edin Aala and four other diplomats based in Madrid three days to leave the country.

Baird said these “Syrian representatives are not welcome in our countries while their masters in Damascus continue to perpetrate their heinous and murderous acts.”

Australia gave Syrian Charge d’Affaires Jawdat Ali, the most senior Syrian diplomat in Australia, and another diplomat from the Syrian Embassy, 72 hours to leave the country.

Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal declared the Syrian ambassador to his country “persona non grata.” “It is no longer possible to work with a country with such a president,” Rosenthal said on the ministry’s official Twitter feed.

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 U.N. organizations in Vienna.

There was no public Syrian reaction to the coordinated expulsions. Phone calls to Syria’s embassy in Paris were not answered, and an official at the Syrian delegation to UNESCO refused to comment.

The U.N. 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.

The United States, Britain and France are among countries that have closed their embassies in Syria since the crackdown on protesters began last year.

European countries join West pressure on Syria by expelling diplomats

BRUSSELS, May 29, 2012 (Xinhua) --

Major European countries have decided to expel Syrian diplomats Tuesday in a coordinated West move to increase pressure on Syria after the weekend mass killing in the country.

Their moves came after over 100 people were reportedly killed in Syria's central village of Houla on Friday. Opposition groups said the tragedy was a result of artillery fire from government forces, while Syrian authorities blamed terrorist and extremist groups for the killings.

French President Francois Hollande told reporters on Tuesday the Syrian ambassador would have to leave, as a part of France's "pressure tactics" against Syria.

"It is not a unilateral decision but in consultation with our partners," Hollande said.

Later on Tuesday, Hollande even hinted that military operation could not be ruled out to end the crisis in Syria, but said that it had to be backed by the UN Security Council.

"An armed intervention is not excluded on the condition that it is carried out with respect to international law, meaning after deliberation by the United Nations Security Council," Hollande said in a television interview.

He also called for stronger sanctions and stressed the need to talk with Russia on the Syrian issue.

Paris' move paralleled those from other European capitals.

Britain decided to expel the Syrian charge d'affaires and two other diplomats to add pressure on the Syrian government, Foreign Secretary William Hague said.

"We are discussing in the European Union a further tightening of sanctions on Syria. I have had the discussions with Russia yesterday. And the Russian foreign minister did agree with me yesterday that it is necessary to increase the pressure on all concerned," Hague said.

Meanwhile, the Syrian ambassador to Germany was given 72 hours to leave the country, said Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.

Besides Italy, Spain and Bulgaria, which also took actions to expel Syrian diplomats, some other European countries also joined the West collaboration to add pressure on Syria.

Switzerland on Tuesday declared the Swiss-accredited Syrian ambassador based in Paris, Lamia Chakkour, as "persona non grata."

The Dutch government said the Syrian ambassador was no longer welcome in the Netherlands. But it cannot expel the ambassador, because he resides in Brussels from where he represents Syria in both Belgium and the Netherlands.

UN-Arab League joint special envoy Kofi Annan met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday to convey the grave concern of the international community about violence in Syria, particularly about the recent killings in Houla.

Speaking at a press conference after the meeting, Annan said the UN Security Council has made clear the need for these killings to be investigated and for those responsible to be held accountable.

He also noted that the Syrian government is organizing its own investigations and "that is very encouraging."

The Syrian government has denied involvement of government troops in the massacre, while blaming "hundreds of heavily armed gunmen" who attacked soldiers in the area for the killings.

"We condemn with the strongest term this terrorist massacre," said Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdessi on Sunday, adding the government has formed a military judicial committee to conduct investigations and the results would appear within three days.

The United States followed its Western allies on Tuesday in announcing the expulsion of top Syrian diplomats.

The U.S. State Department said on Tuesday that it is expelling Syria's charge d'affaires in Washington in protest of the Friday killings.

"We hold the Syrian government responsible for this slaughter of innocent lives," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

The Department said that charge d'affaires Zuheir Jabbour, Syria's top diplomat in Washington, has 72 hours to leave the United States.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called for an unbiased probe into the latest Houla carnage in Syria and urged "all parties" involved in the Syria conflict to stop violence immediately and prevent any similar tragedy in the future.

China strongly condemned the attacks in Houla.

"China is deeply astonished by the attacks against innocent civilians, especially towards women and children," Foreign Ministry Spokesman Liu Weimin said Monday, adding that China urges an investigation into the attack and punishment of the criminals.

China called upon all parties in Syria to immediately and comprehensively implement the resolutions of the UN Security Council as well as Annan's six-point proposal, effectively implement their commitment to stop the violence and protect civilians, and make joint efforts to ease the tensions and promote the political resolution of the Syria issue, he added.

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