Assad meets Annan in Damascus 370.jpg.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
BEIRUT - Peace envoy Kofi Annan expressed "grave concern" to Syria's
President Bashar Assad on Tuesday and Western nations threw out its
envoys to protest against a massacre of 108 civilians, many of them
children, in the town of Houla.
France, Britain, Canada, Germany, Italy, Spain and Australia said they
were expelling the Syrian envoys from their capitals in a move that was
coordinated with the United States and underlined Assad's diplomatic
The killings in Houla drew a chorus of powerful condemnation from around
the world, with the United Nations saying entire families had been shot
dead in their homes.
"Bashar Assad is the murderer of his people," French Foreign Minister
Laurent Fabius told Le Monde. "He must relinquish power. The sooner the
better." His Australian counterpart Bob Carr said: "This massacre of
more than 100 men, women and children in Houla was a hideous and brutal
Assad's government late on Monday denied having anything to do with the deaths, or even having heavy weapons in the area.
Western countries that have called for Assad to step down were hoping
that the Houla killings would tip global opinion, notably that of
Syria's main protector Russia, towards more effective action against
Damascus.Annan drew up a peace plan
backed by the United Nations and the Arab
League to steer a way out of the 14-month-old uprising against Assad.
But six weeks after it was agreed by Damascus and the rebels, the
bloodshed has barely slowed.
Annan told Assad of the "grave concern of the international community
about the violence in Syria, including in particular the recent events
in Houla," his spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said in a statement after two hours
of talks in Damascus.
"He conveyed in frank terms his view to President Assad that the
six-point plan cannot succeed without bold steps to stop the violence
and release detainees, and stressed the importance of full
implementation of the plan."
Carr said Syria's expelled charge d'affaires in Canberra was told to
"convey a clear message to Damascus that Australians are appalled by
this massacre and we will pursue a unified international response to
hold those responsible to account."
Germany Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle urged the UN Security Council to revisit the situation in Syria.
The UN human rights office in Geneva said fewer than 20 of the 108 dead
in Houla were killed by artillery and tank fire - weaponry that
lightly-armed rebels do not have in their arsenal.
Survivors told UN investigators that most of the others had been shot by
pro-Assad shabbiha militia, who in the past have intimidated and
assaulted hotbeds of opposition to Assad.
"Almost half of the ones we know of so far are children - that is
totally unpardonable - and a very large number of women as well," said
spokesman Rupert Colville. "At this point, it looks like entire families
were shot in their houses."
The report contradicted an open letter sent by Syria to the UN Security
Council on Monday saying: "Not a single tank entered the region and the
Syrian army was in a state of self-defense ...The terrorist armed groups
... entered with the purpose of killing and the best proof of that is
the killing by knives, which is the signature of terrorist groups who
massacre according to the Islamist way."
Gruesome video footage distributed by opposition activists has helped to
shake world opinion out of growing indifference to a conflict in which
more than 10,000 have been killed.