Australia Tuesday 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 Houla was a hideous and brutal crime,” Carr said.
“The Syrian government can expect no further official engagement with Australia until it abides by the UN ceasefire and takes active steps to carry out 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 organise 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 UN 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 UN sanctions such as an arms embargo as well as financial and travel restrictions on identified individuals.
UN-Arab envoy 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.”
The former UN chief said those responsible must be held to account, and urged “everyone with a gun” to abide by his six-point blueprint to help end 15 months of bloodshed.
World leaders have voiced outrage over the deaths of at least 108 people in the central town of Houla on Friday and Saturday, among them 49 children and 34 women, many blown to bits or shot dead at point blank range.