Dubai: The US followed western allies on Tuesday in announcing the expulsion of top Syrian diplomats as United Nations envoy Kofi Annan told President Bashar Al Assad that "bold steps" were required for his six-point peace plan to succeed, including a halt to violence and release of people arrested in the uprising.
The US gave Charge d'Affairs Zouheir Jabbour 72 hours to leave the country, according to an emailed statement by State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. Hours earlier, Australia, France, Germany, Britain, Italy, Spain and Canada also said Syrian diplomats were being told to leave.
"We hold the Syrian government responsible for this slaughter of innocent lives," Nuland said, referring to the killings in Al Houla. "This massacre is the most unambiguous indictment to date of the Syrian government's flagrant violations of its Security Council obligations."
Her comments paralleled those from officials in European capitals.
"The Syrian regime bears responsibility for the horrific events in Al Houla," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said in an emailed statement yesterday. "Whoever deploys heavy weaponry against its own people in Syria and anywhere else in violation of Security Council resolutions must face serious diplomatic and political consequences."
The US and its allies had considered a similar move earlier this year, putting it aside when Al Assad's regime agreed in April to a ceasefire brokered by Annan. Since then, Al Assad has failed to comply with Annan's six-point peace plan backed by the UN Security Council, as his regime has continued assaults against civilian areas in an effort to crush opposition.
The Security Council condemned the killings on May 27. Preliminary information shows that 49 children and 34 women were killed in Syria's Al Houla region during an "appalling massacre" that began on May 26 and continued through the weekend, Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said.
Fewer than 20 of the 108 confirmed killings can be attributed to artillery and tank fire, he told journalists in Geneva yesterday.
Entire families were shot in their homes, he said, adding that the information came from local witnesses and survivors.
"After the events of this past weekend the violence is getting more out of control," Theodore Karasik, director of research at the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, said in a phone interview. Expelling Al Assad's diplomats shows that "diplomacy has reached its end".
"Cutting diplomatic relations and imposing strict economic sanctions on the regime are a basic part of the political actions required to respond to the horrific massacres the criminal regime is committing," the Syrian National Council said in a statement on Facebook.