Furious Turkey expels Syrian diplomats

İSTANBUL, Turkey - Turkey expelled Syria’s charge d’affaires and other diplomats on Wednesday, joining an international campaign to isolate President Bashar al-Assad’s regime after a weekend massacre of more than a hundred people in a Syrian village.

Ankara, one of the most outspoken critics of the Syrian regime, also signaled new, unspecified sanctions to be added to existing ones. “The sanctions we put into effect earlier may take on a different form. We are working on them. We will make them public once they are decided upon,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told reporters in Ankara. Erdoğan said the decision to expel the Syrian diplomats was a response to the massacre of 110 people, including dozens of children, in Houla. “We could not remain silent in the face of this,” he said. “Remaining silent in the face of oppression, tolerating oppression, amounts to oppression itself.”

Erdoğan also predicted stronger world pressure on Syria after the massacre, saying the world can no longer remain silent. “I believe it will be impossible even for those [countries] that appear to be on his [Assad's] side to remain so. It is out of the question to tolerate something like that,” he said. Earlier in the day, the Foreign Ministry said it had ordered the Syrian charge d’affaires and other diplomats at the Syrian embassy in Ankara to leave the country within 72 hours. The Syrian consulate in İstanbul will remain open for consular duties only.The Foreign Ministry said on Wed-nesday it had also reduced the number of its personnel at the Turkish consulate in Aleppo, Syria.

Most of the consulate staff returned to Turkey, but officials said Consul-General Adnan Keçeci is still on duty and that the mission will remain open with the minimum number of personnel needed to handle consular duties.

Turkey withdrew its diplomats from its embassy in Damascus in March and the Syrian embassy in Ankara has been without an ambassador for more than a year.

Japan also ordered the Syrian ambassador in Tokyo to leave the country on Wednesday because of concerns about the violence against civilians in Syria, but said it was not breaking off diplomatic ties with Syria. The Turkish and Japanese announcements came a day after the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Bulgaria ordered top Syrian diplomats to leave in a coordinated protest of the Houla massacre.

The Syrian government denied its troops were behind the killings and blamed “armed terrorists.” Damascus had said it would conduct its own investigation into the Houla deaths by Wednesday, but it was not clear if the findings would be made public. Syria’s state-run media denounced the diplomatic expulsions on Wednesday. The government’s Al-Thawra newspaper blasted the move, calling it an “escalation that aims to besiege Annan’s plan and enflame a civil war,” the Associated Press reported.

Russia, one of Syria’s strongest allies, also said on Wednesday that the expulsion of Syrian envoys is “counterproductive” because it eliminates a channel that could be used to influence Assad’s government.

Tensions have escalated as more information emerges about the May 25 killings in Houla. The UN human rights office said most of the victims were shot execution-style at close range, with fewer than 20 of the victims cut down by regime shelling. UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said there are strong suspicions that pro-Assad “shabbiha” fighters were responsible for some of the killings, casting doubt on allegations that “third elements” — or outside forces — were involved, although he did not rule that out.

Sources told Today’s Zaman that shabbiha are being increasingly incorporated into the Syrian military as more and more army personnel defect to join the ranks of the opposition, receiving commander ranks even if they have had no military training.

Source: Today’s Zaman

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