PARIS -- Governments around the world expelled Syrian ambassadors and diplomats Tuesday, an unusual, coordinated blow to Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime following a gruesome massacre that the United Nations said involved close-range shootings of scores of children and parents in their homes.
The United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Bulgaria and the Netherlands took action Tuesday against Syrian diplomats. Britain's foreign secretary said the countries involved in Tuesday's expulsions would also push for tougher sanctions against Syria.
The moves came after the killings Friday in Houla, a collection of farming villages in Syria's Homs province – one of the deadliest single events in a 15-month-old uprising against Assad that has killed thousands.
A U.N. report Tuesday said 49 children and 34 women were among the 108 people who died, but it did not decisively say who carried out most of the killings.
"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. In a statement, he called the Houla killings a "hideous and brutal crime" and said Australia would not engage with the Syrian government unless it abides by a U.N. cease-fire plan.
Diplomats at the U.N., the European Union and the Arab League have been working since the Houla massacre to coordinate new action against Syria's government, French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said.
The expulsions up the pressure on Syrian allies such as Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin is traveling to Germany and France this week and is likely to come under even greater criticism of his Syria-supportive stance.
"We have to continue our work with the Russians," British Foreign Secretary William Hague said. "We will continue to discuss this with Russia. Russia has particular leverage on the regime and therefore has a particular role in this crisis."
Hague said that the situation in Syria is more complicated than what international powers faced in Libya last year, when the United Nations approved intervention against dictator Moammar Gadhafi's regime.
The U.S. State Department said Tuesday that the charge d'affaires at the Syrian Embassy has been given 72 hours to leave the United States. Syria has not had an ambassador in the U.S. since the previous envoy left last year to take another post.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the U.S. holds "the Syrian government responsible for this slaughter of innocent lives."
Britain is expelling three Syrian diplomats to protest the Houla killings, among them Charge d'Affaires Ghassan Dalla – the country's top ranking diplomat in London.
In Canada, Foreign Minister John Baird said all Syrian diplomats and their families have five days to leave. Another Syrian diplomat expected in Canada will be refused entry.
In France, Syria's former colonial ruler, new President Francois Hollande showed that he is not backing down from his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy's tough line on Syria.
Syrian Ambassador Lamia Shakkour was notified Tuesday that she is persona non grata, along with two other embassy officials, the French Foreign Ministry said. Hollande said Shakkour is being expelled but that the timing is complicated by her dual status as Syria's ambassador to Paris-based UNESCO.
Hollande said that after high-level discussions with British Prime Minister David Cameron and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, it had been decided to deploy "a certain number of ... pressure tactics," against Syria.
Germany on Tuesday announced Syria's ambassador had three days to leave. Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Germany 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 in a statement. He said Germany will push for the U.N. Security Council to consider the situation in Syria again.
"It has been clear not just since Houla that Syria has no future under Assad," Westerwelle said.
The Italian Foreign Ministry said Syrian Ambassador Khaddour Hassan was ordered out of the country. Spain said it was giving Syrian Ambassador Hussam Edin Aala and four other diplomats based in Madrid three days to leave.
Australia gave Charge d'Affaires Jawdat Ali, the most senior Syrian diplomat in Australia, and another diplomat from the Syrian Embassy, three days to leave the country.
Bulgaria gave its Syrian diplomats three days to leave.
Other countries stopped short of expulsions, either to protect their ties with Damascus or because some Syrian ambassadors serve several countries simultaneously.
Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal declared the Syrian ambassador to his country "persona non grata" but said he would not be expelled because he is also Syria's ambassador to Belgium. "It is no longer possible to work with a country with such a president," Rosenthal said on the ministry's official Twitter feed.
Sweden is not expelling Syrian diplomats because the Swedes are concerned that would affect their own diplomatic presence in Syria. Sweden believes that it's important to maintain that presence in order to have contacts "not least with the opposition," said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Catarina Axelsson.
In Vienna, Foreign Ministry spokesman Nikolaus Lutterotti said the Syrian ambassador was being summoned to the ministry where officials will deliver a very hard protest about the massacre.
When asked if the expulsions were EU-wide, Lutterotti said this had not yet been decided. He said the ambassador to Austria would not be expelled as he holds an additional function as the representative to the U.N. organizations in Vienna.
Turkey said it has no immediate plans to expel anyone. Tunisia, the birthplace of Arab uprisings against entrenched autocrats that spread across the region last year to Syria, had already expelled Syria's ambassador.
There was no public Syrian reaction to the coordinated expulsions. Phone calls to Syria's embassy in Paris were not answered, and an official at the Syrian delegation to UNESCO refused to comment.
The U.N. estimates 9,000 people have been killed since the uprising began in March 2011. Assad's regime denies there is any popular will behind the country's uprising.
In Damascus, international envoy Kofi Annan met with Assad on Tuesday and said his peace plan cannot work without "bold steps" to stop the violence, said Annan's spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi.
Hollande said Tuesday that Paris will host a meeting in early July of the so-called Friends of Syria seeking a diplomatic solution to the conflict.
Associated Press reporters across Europe, in Australia and Canada contributed to this story.
U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice tweets:
|@ AmbassadorRice : #Syria regime turned artillery, tanks and helicopters on its own men & women. It unleashed knife-wielding shabiha gangs on its own children.|
Russia says international envoy Kofi Annan will visit Moscow on Monday to discuss the ongoing crisis in Syria. Russia also called for an inquiry into an alleged massacre that took place in the village of Tramseh on Thursday. "We have no doubt that this wrongdoing serves the interests of those powers that are not seeking peace but persistently seek to sow the seeds of interconfessional and civilian conflict on Syrian soil," Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement, according to Reuters. Moscow did not apportion blame for the killings.
Read more on Reuters.com.
The Associated Press obtained a video that purports to show the aftermath of an alleged massacre in the village of Tramseh, near Hama.
How do Syria's fighters get their arms? An overview put together by Reuters explains that there are three gateways to the country -- Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq.
Syrian rebels are smuggling small arms into Syria through a network of land and sea routes involving cargo ships and trucks moving through Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq, maritime intelligence and Free Syrian Army (FSA) officers say. Western and regional powers deny any suggestion they are involved in gun running. Their interest in the sensitive border region lies rather in screening to ensure powerful weapons such as surface to air missiles do not find their way to Islamist or other militants.
Read the full report here.
This citizen journalism image made from video provided by Shaam News Network SNN, purports to show a man mourning a victim killed by violence that, according to anti-regime activists, was carried out by government forces in Tremseh, Syria about 15 kilometers (nine miles) northwest of the central city of Hama, Thursday, July 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, SNN)
According to the Hama Revolutionary Council, a Syrian opposition group, more than 220 people have been killed in a new alleged massacre in Taramseh. Earlier reports said more than 100 people were killed. "More than 220 people fell today in Taramseh," the Council said in a statement. "They died from bombardment by tanks and helicopters, artillery shelling and summary executions."
Fadi Sameh, an opposition activist from Taramseh, told Reuters he had left the town before the reported massacre but was in touch with residents. "It appears that Alawite militiamen from surrounding villages descended on Taramseh after its rebel defenders pulled out, and started killing the people. Whole houses have been destroyed and burned from the shelling," Sameh claimed.
Read more on Reuters.com.
Syrian activist Rami Jarrah tweets that Syrian State TV has confirmed deaths in Tremseh. "Terrorists" is often the term used by the Syrian regime for opposition forces.
|@ AlexanderPageSY : Syrian State TV: clashes between security apparatus & terrorists in #Tremseh of #Hama leaves large numbers of terrorists killed #Syria|
|@ Reuters : UPDATE: DEATH TOLL IN SYRIAN FORCES' ATTACK ON VILLAGE IN SYRIA'S HAMA REGION IS MORE THAN 200, MOSTLY CIVILIANS - OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS|