Moral Low Ground


Syrian Diplomats Expelled by Many Nations; Even Russia Condemns Assad Regime for Houla Massacre as New Executions Reported

Nations around the world expelled Syrian diplomats on Tuesday as even Russia condemned the regime of Bashar al-Assad for the slaughter of 108 people in Houla on Friday.

The Associated Press reports that the expulsions were a coordinated effort by many nations acting together to condemn the Friday massacre in Houla, a collection of farming villages in Homs province in which the United Nations says 108 people were killed. The dead include 49 children and 34 women.

“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, calling the Houla killings a “hideous and brutal crime.”

The United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Bulgaria, Netherlands, Turkey and Japan all informed Syrian diplomats that they were no longer welcome in their respective countries.

US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, who said the charge d’affaires at the Syrian Embassy in Washington, DC has been given 72 hours to leave the country, said Washington holds “the Syrian government responsible for this slaughter of innocent lives.”

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who gave Syria’s ambassador three days to leave, said his country and its allies hope “that this unambiguous message does not fall on deaf ears in Damascus.”

“The Syrian regime bears responsibility for the terrible events in Houla,” Westerwelle said, adding that “it has been clear not just since Houla that Syria has no future under Assad,.”

While not expelling Syrian diplomats, longtime Assad ally Russia even stepped up to condemn the Houla killings.

“The government bears the main responsibility for what is going on,” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in Moscow after a Monday meeting with British Foreign Secretary William Hague. “Any government in any country bears responsibility for the security of its citizens.”

“We don’t support the Syrian government; we support Kofi Annan’s plan,” Lavrov said, referring to a peace plan drawn up by former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan which calls for a cease-fire and dialogue between the Assad regime and anti-government forces who have been fighting to topple Assad since last March.

As many as 12,000 people have been killed by both sides since the uprising, part of the Arab Spring revolutions which overthrew long-standing dictatorships in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. The vast majority of the dead have been killed by government and pro-Assad paramilitary forces.

At Houla, government troops pounded the villages with artillery and summarily executed men, women and children. Activists claim men were gunned down in the streets, while women and children were stabbed in their homes. The United Nations says that the majority of the dead were the victims of executions, many of them shot in the head at very close range.

“What is very clear is that this was an absolutely abominable event that happened in Houla and at least a substantial part of it was summary executions of civilians including women and children,” Rupert Colville, spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said on Tuesday.

“It’s believed that under 20 of the 108 killings can be attributed to artillery and tank fire,” he added. “Most of the rest of the victims in Taldo, one of the areas of Houla, were summarily executed in two separate incidents.”

Colville blamed the slaughter on a paramilitary group that “essentially supports the government forces.”

On Wednesday, al-Jazeera reported that 13 new bodies, apparent execution victims, were found near Assukar in eastern Syria. Major-General Robert Mood, head of the United Nations observer mission in Syria, said that the victims’ hands were tied behind their backs and some had bullet holes in their heads, indicating execution at very close range.

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