Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Bulgaria Formally Kicks Out Syrian Ambassador over Houla Massacre

DUBAI — Western nations are pressing for a response to the massacre in the Syrian town of Houla, with the US calling for an end to what it called President Bashar al-Assad’s “rule by murder”. UK Foreign Secretary William Hague has called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council this week. The UN has confirmed the deaths of at least 90 people in Houla, including 32 children under the age of 10. The Syrian government blamed the deaths on “armed terrorist gangs”. Houla, in the central province of Homs, came under sustained bombardment by the Syrian army after demonstrations on Friday. Activists say some of the victims died by shelling, while others were summarily executed by the regime militia known as the “shabiha”. ‘Flagrant violation’ The killings have sparked a chorus of international condemnation. The EU, Arab League, France, Britain and Germany all expressed shock over the incident and called for an intensification of pressure on the Assad government, while the UN demanded that Syria stop using heavy weapons in populated areas. Britain was consulting with its allies on a “strong international response” and was calling for an urgent meeting of the Security Council in the coming days, Mr Hague said. “Our urgent priority is to establish a full account of this appalling crime and to move swiftly to ensure that those responsible are identified and held to account,” he said. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan said the attack – one of the bloodiest episodes since the uprising began – was a “flagrant violation of international law”. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called it an “appalling” massacre, saying President Bashar al-Assad’s “rule by murder and fear must come to an end”. In a statement on Saturday, Mrs Clinton called the deaths an “atrocity” and said Washington would increase pressure on “Assad and his cronies”, who she said must give up power. “Those who perpetrated this atrocity must be identified and held to account,” she added. France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said he was making immediate arrangements for a Paris meeting of the Friends of Syria group, which includes Western and Arab nations, but not Russia or China, who have blocked previous attempts to introduce UN sanctions. The EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton also condemned the incident. Mr Ban and Mr Annan said the crime involved “indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force” and violated commitments by Syria’s government. In April, Damascus pledged to implement a six-point plan brokered by Mr Annan, including a ceasefire and the withdrawal of heavy weaponry from urban areas. Meanwhile, the opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA) said it could no longer commit to the ceasefire unless the Security Council could ensure that civilians are protected. In a statement, the FSA said that if urgent steps were not taken, then Mr Annan’s plan was “going to hell”, AFP reports. It said killings in Syria were taking place “under the eyes of the UN observers,” and called on states to “announce the failure of the Annan plan.” ‘Deplorable’ Violence in Syria has continued despite the deployment of some 260 UN observers sent to oversee a ceasefire which the BBC’s Jim Muir in neighbouring Lebanon says is now “pretty fictional”. The head of the observer mission in Syria, Maj-Gen Robert Mood, called the massacre a “brutal tragedy”, but did not say who carried out the murders. After a UN visit to the town on Saturday, he said they could confirm “the use of small arms, machine gun[s], artillery and tanks”. “Whoever started, whoever responded and whoever carried out this deplorable act of violence should be held responsible,” Mr Mood said. The UN has confirmed the deaths of at least 90 people, but the opposition Syrian National Council, as well as rights groups, put the toll higher. Our correspondent says local people are angry that UN observers failed to intervene to stop the killing. Abu Emad, speaking from Houla, said their appeals to the monitors failed to produce action. “We told them at night, we called seven of them. We told them the massacre is being committed right now at Houla by the mercenaries of this regime and they just refused to come and stop the massacre.” In the town of Kfarnabel in Idlib province, one protester on Saturday held a sign reading “Annan is singlehandedly responsible for the Houla massacre,” AFP reports.

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