Syrian ambassador declared “persona non grata”
A video grab shows bodies of Syrians killed on Friday being prepared for a mass funeral in Houla (Keystone)
Bern has added to diplomatic pressure on the Syrian government, declaring the Syrian ambassador to Switzerland “persona non grata” as governments around the world expelled Syrian ambassadors in the wake of the massacre in Houla.
The Syrian ambassador to Switzerland, Lamia Chakkour, is based in Paris. Earlier on Tuesday France announced it had expelled her in response to Friday’s killings in which scores of children and their parents were shot at close range in their homes.
The foreign ministry said it had taken the action because of the “systematic” violation by Syria of two United Nations security council resolutions, and because of its non-implementation of the peace plan led by UN and Arab League representative Kofi Annan.
In a coordinated attack on the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, the United States, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Canada, Australia, Britain and the Netherlands all expelled Syrian ambassadors on Tuesday.
Switzerland on Sunday joined international condemnation the massacre of around 100 people, including nearly 50 children, in Houla which is believed to have been carried out by forces loyal to Assad's government. It has called for an international investigation and punishment of those responsible.
The foreign ministry said Switzerland would work within the UN to ensure that the “perpetrators of this heinous massacre, which could meet the definition of a war crime” be brought to justice.
After an emergency meeting on Sunday the UN Security Council issued a press statement to say it "condemned in the strongest possible terms" the killings in Houla.
It blamed Syrian forces for artillery and tank shelling of residential areas and condemned the killings of civilians "by shooting at close range and by severe physical abuse", but avoided saying who was responsible for these attacks. It demanded the Syrian government halt the use of heavy weapons and pull its troops out of cities and towns.
It also called for an independent investigation into the attacks in Houla. For its part, Switzerland also urged the members of the UN Security Council to call on the International Criminal Court to carry out an investigation.
Switzerland also confirmed its support for the peace plan of UN Special Envoy and the Arab League, Kofi Annan.
“Only this can stop the Syrian crisis peacefully”, the foreign ministry statement said, adding that the Syrian government must immediately implement all elements of the plan, including access for humanitarian organisations to the civilian victims.
Friday’s assault on Houla, an area northwest of the central city of Homs, was one of the bloodiest single events in Syria’s 15-month-old uprising.
General Robert Mood, the head of the unarmed UN observer mission in Syria put the death toll at 108 people, including 49 children and 34 women.
The Syrian government denied on Sunday that its troops were behind the attack on a string of villages, blaming the killings on “hundreds of heavily armed gunmen” who also attacked soldiers in the area.
The attacks sparked outrage from United States and other international leaders and renewed concerns about the relevance of a month-old international peace plan that has not stopped almost daily violence.
The UN put the death toll weeks ago at more than 9,000. Hundreds have been killed since.
UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said Sunday that the "indiscriminate and possibly deliberate" killing of villagers in the Houla area may amount to crimes against humanity or other international crimes.
Meanwhile activists reported on Monday that 24 people were killed on Sunday night in further clashes in the city of Hama.