Several countries expel Syrian diplomats as EU mulls joint expulsion


The United States, Switzerland and the Netherlands became the latest countries on Tuesday to expel the Syrian envoy, joining Bulgaria, Spain, Italy, Canada, Britain, Australia, France and Germany.

The U.S. State Department is expelling Syria’s charge d’affaires in Washington following a wave of deadly attacks on civilians in Syria over the weekend, a U.S. official said.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Syrian diplomat would be given 72 hours to depart the country.

Syria’s longtime ambassador to Washington, Imad Moustapha, was recalled to Damascus late last year and a formal replacement had not been named.

The Swiss government declared the Syrian ambassador an unwelcome person in Switzerland.

The Federal Department of Foreign Affairs said it had informed the Syrian Foreign Ministry of its decision to declare Lamia Chakkour, who resides in Paris from where she represents both France and Switzerland, a persona non-grata.

The Netherlands has also declared Syria’s ambassador to the country as “persona non-grata” to protest the massacre of Houla, the Dutch foreign affairs minister said.

“I have decided to declare the Syrian ambassador as a persona non-grata,” Uri Rosenthal said in a statement, adding that “we cannot co-operate with a country headed by such a president,” referring to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

The Bulgarian foreign ministry said in a statement, “Salah Soukkar, Syria’s charge d'affaires in Bulgaria will be informed today that he has to leave Bulgaria in the next 72 hours.

” Earlier, Spain had expelled its Syria’s ambassador in Madrid in protest against the “unacceptable repression by the Syrian regime against its own people,” the government said.

“Spain has decided to declare the Syrian ambassador in Spain, Hussam Edin Aala, persona non grata because of the unacceptable repression carried out by the Syrian regime against its own people,” the foreign ministry said.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the expulsions would send a “stark message” that time was running out for Assad after the killings of 108 people in the central Syrian town last week.

The move was part of the increased pressure by the international community on senior figures in the regime, to “get the message across to them that they have to choose, that time will run out for Assad,” Hague said.

“As part of that pressure today we have again called the Syrian charge d’affaires in London here to the Foreign Office. He has been given seven days to leave the country,” Hague said.

“Other Syrian diplomats will be expelled, two other diplomats will be expelled at the same time.

“Our allies and partners around the world will be taking similar action and announcing it today -- including France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United States, Canada and Australia.”

Rome declared the Syrian ambassador and other embassy staff “persona non grata,” the foreign ministry said, while Canada announced it will immediately expel the three remaining Syrian diplomats in Ottawa in response to a massacre in the town of Houla last week, Foreign Minister John Baird said on Tuesday.

“Ambassador Khaddour Hasan was summoned to the Foreign Ministry and told he was ‘persona non grata,’” the Italian government said, expressing its “indignation for the heinous crimes carried out against the civilian population.”

Syria’s main opposition coalition welcomed the expulsion of the country’s top diplomats from the several Western countries, according to a statement on Tuesday.

“The Syrian National Council welcomes the expulsion of the regime’s ambassador in Paris and its representatives in Australia,” the statement said.

“The SNC declares its full support for these actions that France and Australia initiated, and expects other states to follow suit.”

Several EU nations were considering a joint expulsion of Syrian diplomatic staff from their countries Tuesday in response to the weekend’s horrific massacre in the town of Houla, diplomatic sources said.

“That idea is on the table,” said an EU diplomat ahead of talks Tuesday and Wednesday between ambassadors from the 27-nation bloc, and as France announced the expulsion of the Syrian ambassador.

“There was a concerted plan between Britain, France and Germany,” said another source, who asked not to be identified.

EU ambassadors will discuss further how to respond to the weekend events at talks taking place in Brussels.

A response to Houla’s “appalling massacre”

Around 20 of the 108 people confirmed as having been killed in the “appalling massacre” in the Syrian town of al-Houla died from artillery and tank fire, the United Nations human rights office said on Tuesday.

Survivors have told U.N. investigators that most of the other victims died in two bouts of summary executions carried out by pro-government Shabbiha militia in the nearby village of Taldaou, U.N. rights spokesman Rupert Colville said, according to Reuters.

“I believe at this point, and I would stress we are at very preliminary stages, that under 20 of the 108 can be attributed to artillery and tank fire,” he told a news briefing in Geneva, adding that 49 children and 34 women were among the victims.

Colville told reporters that most of the other victims were summarily executed in two separate incidents. He said the conclusions of the U.N. monitors are corroborated by other sources, The Associated Press reported.

France will host a new Friends of Syria meeting in early July, President Francois Hollande said on Tuesday.

Hollande, speaking to reporters after a Paris meeting with Benin President Thomas Boni Yayi, said of Syria that “among the decisions taken, there is the expulsion of the Syrian ambassador in France. This is not a unilateral decision but in consultation with our partners.”

Australia, meanwhile, expelled Syria’s top diplomat over the “hideous and brutal” massacre at Houla of more than 100 people, with Foreign Minister Bob Carr saying he expected other countries to follow suit.

Syrian charge d’affaires, Jawdat Ali, was notified of the decision to expel him and one other diplomat a day after he was called in to meet with officials over the killings, which sparked global condemnation.

“This is the most effective way we’ve got of sending a message of revulsion to the Syrian government,” Carr told journalists.

He said Ali, Syria’s highest ranked diplomat in Australia, and the other unnamed official had 72 hours to leave the country.

“This massacre of more than 100 men, women and children in al-Houla was a hideous and brutal crime,” Carr said, according to AFP.

“The Syrian government can expect no further official engagement with Australia until it abides by the U.N. ceasefire and takes active steps to implement the peace plan agreed with Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan.”

The decision came as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad received Annan for a meeting in Damascus, according to Syria’s state news agency SANA.

Carr said Ali had been advised to convey a clear message to Damascus that Australians were appalled by the killings and Canberra would pursue a unified international response to hold those responsible to account.

“They’re appalled at a regime that could connive in or organize the execution, the killing of men, women and children,” he said.

“Australians want that conveyed. And the best way of conveying it right now, given the restraints of what we deal with in the U.N. in New York, is to expel Syrian diplomats from Australia.”

Carr added that Australia took the action “with other nations around the world” and he expected similar announcements to be made in other capitals soon.

“We are moving more or less with our friends in the world -- I expect other countries to be doing this overnight Australian time,” Carr said.

The foreign minister refused to say which other countries would take similar action, but Canberra is strong allies with the United States and Britain.

He said the international response could include referrals to the International Criminal Court and imposing U.N. sanctions such as an arms embargo as well as financial and travel restrictions on identified individuals.

Annan, who will seek to salvage his battered Syrian peace plan during “frank” talks with Assad, called the massacre in the central town “an appalling moment with profound consequences.”