Syria kicked out envoys from Turkey and 10 Western countries, including the U.S. and the U.K., in retaliation for the expulsion of its diplomats in the aftermath of the Houla massacre.
Diplomats from Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Switzerland were also expelled, the state-run SANA news agency said today, citing an unidentified Foreign Ministry official who said the action was in accordance with “the principle of reciprocity.”
The expulsion of Syrian diplomats from the U.S. and other Western nations came after 108 people, including 49 children, were killed in Houla. The massacre was one of the worst atrocities in the 15-month uprising against President Bashar al- Assad’s government. The United Nations Human Rights Council said it was the work of “pro-regime elements,” while Syrian officials have blamed the killings on “terrorist” groups.
As many as 10,000 people have been killed since the unrest in Syria began in March 2011, according to UN estimates. At least 24 people were slain today across the country, the Local Coordination Committees in Syria said in an e-mail.
The U.S. suspended embassy operations in Damascus and recalled Ambassador Robert Ford and the rest of its staff in February. Several European Union embassies, including the German and French missions, have closed down.
A cease-fire brokered by UN envoy Kofi Annan in April has failed to stop the bloodshed. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said today he is starting to lose hope the plan can succeed. He urged Russia, which has protected the Assad regime against tougher UN sanctions, to change its position on the Syrian crisis to avoid harming its relations with Arab nations.
Syria agreed today to permit UN aid workers into Dara’a, Homs, Deir al-Zour and Idlib, which are among the areas that have seen the most fighting, according to John Ging, director of operations for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Geneva.
“There is now agreement with the Syrian government on the scale, scope and modality for humanitarian response,” Ging told journalists in Geneva today. “Whether this is a breakthrough or not will be evident in the coming days or weeks and it will be measured not in rhetoric, not in agreements, but in action on the ground.”
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