- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 29, 2012

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 and security.”

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 massacre.”

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.

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