Annan: ‘Bold steps’ required for Syria peace plan

International mediator Kofi Annan told Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday that “bold steps” were required for his six-point peace plan to succeed, including a halt to violence and release of people arrested in the uprising.

“Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan met President Bashar al-Assad this morning to convey the grave concern of the international community about the violence in Syria, including in particular the recent events in Houla.

“He conveyed in frank terms his view to Assad that the six-point plan cannot succeed without bold steps to stop the violence and release detainees, and stressed the importance of full implementation of the plan,” said a statement issued by his spokesperson Ahmad Fawzi after talks in Damascus.

Earlier, the UN human rights office said that fewer than 20 of the 108 people confirmed as having been killed in a massacre in Houla died from artillery and tank fire, with most of the rest shot in their homes.

France and Australia threw out Syrian diplomats from their capitals on Tuesday and other countries were due to follow suit as revulsion over the killing of more than 100 civilians in a Syrian town spurred them to act against al-Assad.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius called Assad a murderer and Australia’s Bob Carr said those responsible for the massacre at Houla would be held to account.

“Bashar al-Assad is the murderer of his people. He must relinquish power. The sooner the better,” Fabius said in an interview with French daily Le Monde.

French President Francois Hollande told reporters Syria’s ambassador in Paris was being expelled. He said the decision was not unilateral but taken in consultation with France’s partners.

Diplomatic sources in several countries told Reuters other governments would take similar action – a development which would mark a new phase in the international effort to halt the repression of a 14-month-old uprising against Assad and force him to relinquish power.

The immediate catalyst for the expulsions appeared to be the massacre on Friday, including women and children, in Houla, although the international community is increasingly frustrated at the failure of a UN-brokered peace plan to end the bloodshed in Syria.

Syrian officials denied any army role in the massacre, one of the worst since the uprising against Assad.

Australia aslo announced the expulsion of two Syrian diplomats including the chief of mission, Jawdat Alai, on Tuesday and gave them 72 hours to leave the country.

“The Syrian charge has again been advised to convey a clear message to Damascus that Australians are appalled by this massacre and we will pursue a unified international response to hold those responsible to account,” Foreign Minister Bob Carr said.

“This massacre of more than 100 men, women and children in Houla was a hideous and brutal crime.”

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan also condemned the killings and said there was a limit to the world’s patience. “To carry out this kind of murder … while the United Nations observer mission is carrying out its mission in Syria is torture, it is wretched,” Erdogan said. “There is also a limit to patience, and I believe that, God willing, there is also a limit to the patience in the UN Security Council,” Erdogan told a meeting of his ruling AK Party.

Canada will immediately expel the three remaining Syrian diplomats in Ottawa in response to a massacre in the town of Houla last week, Foreign Minister John Baird said on Tuesday.

Baird told Ottawa’s CFRA radio that the trio – a charge d’affaires and two other officials – had been told they were being kicked out. France and Germany have already announced they are expelling the Syrian envoys.

“Canada and our partners are speaking loudly, with one voice, in saying these Syrian representatives are not welcome in our countries while their masters in Damascus continue to perpetrate their heinous and murderous acts,” Baird said in a separate news release.

Italy has declared the Syrian ambassador and other embassy staff “persona non grata”, the foreign ministry said on Tuesday, joining other European countries in expelling Syrian diplomats in a protest against massacres of the civilian population. – Reuters

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