By: Andrew Quinn
WASHINGTON, United States – The U.S. State Department on Tuesday expelled Syria’s top diplomat in Washington following what it described as the massacre of more than 100 civilians in a Syrian town.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Syrian Charge d’Affaires Zuheir Jabbour had been given 72 hours to leave the country, part of a wave of expulsions of Syrian diplomats from Western capitals.
“We took this action in coordination with partner countries includingAustralia, Canada, Spain, the United Kingdom, Italy, France and Germany,” Nuland said in a statement.
The U.S. statement described Friday’s attack on the town of Houla as a “vicious assault involving tanks and artillery – weapons that only the regime possesses.”
“There are also reports that many families were summarily executed in their homes by regime forces,” Nuland said.
“We hold the Syrian government responsible for this slaughter of innocent lives,” Nuland said, calling the Houla attack “the most unambiguous indictment to date” of Damascus’ refusal to implement U.N. resolutions calling for a peaceful resolution to the conflict.
Syrian officials have denied any army role in the massacre, one of the worst single incidents in the conflict.
Syria’s longtime ambassador to Washington, Imad Moustapha, was recalled late last year and a formal replacement has not been named, leaving Jabbour as Damascus’ top representative in the United States.
The joint action marked a new phase in the struggling international effort to halt the repression of a 14-month uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and force him to relinquish power.
The United States in February closed its embassy in Damascus, withdrawing Ambassador Robert Ford and all U.S. diplomatic personnel due to the worsening security situation in the country.
The step stopped short of severing diplomatic relations, however, and Ford and his team continue to work on Syria from Washington, seeking to maintain contact both with government officials and opposition activists.
Washington has already imposed tough sanctions on Damascus, but has been struggling to craft a more muscular international response to the crisis amid opposition from Russia and China, both permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.