Assad Regime Under Increased Pressure as West Expels Diplomats
Numerous countries, including France, Britain, Australia and Germany today expelled all Syrian diplomats in an effort to intensify the pressure on Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The Assad regime has faced severe criticism from the United Nations and governments around the world following the massacre of 108 civilians in the town of Houla over the weekend.
According to official U.N. estimates, 49 children and 34 women were among those murdered by government forces. Most of the victims were shot at close range, though some succumbed to bombardment by heavy artillery, said the U.N.
Though the Assad regime has fiercly denied any involvement in the killings, blaming the deaths on armed rebels and bands of thugs known as “shabiha,” independent videos shot by activist groups have substantiated the United Nation’s claims.
Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr explained the expulsion of the Syrian diplomats as “the most effective way we’ve got of sending a message of revulsion to the Syrian government.”
Carr’s German counterpart echoed his sentiments, stating that the profound hope of the German government is “that this unambiguous message does not fall on deaf ears in Damascus.”
Meanwhile, U.N. special envoy to Syria Kofi Annan today met with President Assad in an effort to salvage the peace process and avoid potential military conflict with the West.
Speaking at a press conference following the meeting, Annan called the present state of affairs a “tipping point” and said:
“I appealed to [Assad] for bold steps now – not tomorrow, now – to create momentum for the implementation of the [peace] plan. This means that the government, and all government-backed militias, could stop all military operations and show maximum restraint.”
The Syrian National Council, representing the opposition to the Assad regime, expressed approval at the expulsion of Syrian diplomats, but pressed for harsher sanctions, and asked world governments to collaborate on passing a U.N. resolution authorizing the use of force in Syria.
The U.N. estimates that some 9,000 people have lost their lives since the beginning of the uprising against President Assad 15 months ago, though private estimates put the number as high as 13,000.