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