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Syrian Diplomats Expelled After Slaughter in Houla

May 29, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JUDY WOODRUFF: There was more fallout from a mass killing in Syria today, diplomatic repercussions, as government after government told Syrian representatives to leave. It was part of a wave of revulsion over the slaughter of at least 108 people in the Houla region on Friday night.

The diplomatic expulsions came as U.N. peace envoy Kofi Annan was in Damascus, meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

We begin with a report from Alex Thomson of Independent Television News.

ALEX THOMSON: This has to stop — Kofi Annan’s central message to President Assad today. But, worldwide, governments are not using words. They’re taking action, diplomats expelled, the French government describing President Assad today simply as a murderer.

Kofi Annan wouldn’t use such language, of course, but told the Syrian president to be bold in stopping this war.

KOFI ANNAN, former U.N. secretary general: I shared with President Assad my assessment that the six-point plan is not being implemented as it must. We are at the tipping point. The Syrian people do not want a future — their future to be one of bloodshed and division. Yet, the killings continue and the abuses are still with us today.

ALEX THOMSON: According to the United Nations, fewer than 20 died in the initial government shelling, after rebels clashed with soldiers on Friday.

Another 88, mostly women and children, were executed, according to U.N. monitors who visited the town. People there insist it was Shabiha, government-backed armed civilians, who slaughtered people house to house, family to family.

RUPERT COLVILLE, spokesperson, U.N. Human Rights Office: A few, a fairly small number appear to have been killed by shelling, artillery and tank fire, which took place over a period of more than 12 hours.

But the majority appear to have been the result of house-to-house summary executions.

ALEX THOMSON: One eye witness told Channel 5 News he had hidden in a pile of hay and seen men in black and army uniforms surrounding the town. He said, at first, they were welcomed in this Sunni town surrounded by largely Shia and Alawite areas.

Another villager said they went building to building shooting people in the head and then looting. The U.N. confirms 49 children, 34 women were killed on Friday. Amateur video shows tanks still surrounding the town today, and I certainly witnessed them in action here two days ago.

President Assad, of course, blames what he calls terrorists, and today warned people that such groups are stepping up their activities across Syria, heavy firefights in some districts of Homs until the early hours, so, this morning, the U.N. cease-fire monitors were patrolling with caution from its streets out along the main north-south highway towards Rastan, where they tried to negotiate a cease-fire just three days ago, and then a halt after one incoming round was fired at the patrol from the direction of the town. It happens routinely.

These U.N. monitoring patrols come under fire in this area with great frequency. This is not a situation where there’s much trust. And each cease-fire has to be renegotiated almost town by town, village by village. But still tonight — and rightly — the Houla massacre commands the agenda, its consequences reverberating around the globe.