Syrians watch burial of more than 100 victims in Houla (AFP/Shaam News Network)
The United States, along with allies Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Canada, announced the expulsion of top Syrian diplomats on Tuesday to protest the May 25 massacre of some 100 people in the town of Houla. United Nations officials said the dead included entire families and many children.
"Today the United States informed the Syrian Chargé d'Affaires Zuheir Jabbour of his expulsion from the United States. He has 72 hours to leave the country," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement. Syria has not had an ambassador in Washington since its long-time envoy, Imad Moustapha, left last year and was posted to China.
[Slideshow: Massacre in Syria sparks outrage]
The unusual coordinated move came as Washington and its partners have struggled with the best response to a bloody 15-month crackdown by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad against opposition to his rule. President Barack Obama has resisted pressure from some domestic critics, including Republican Sen. John McCain, to arm the rebels. But his administration has given tacit approval for other countries to do so.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague first announced in London that Washington would join its allies in expelling Syrian diplomats in response to the massacre in Houla. The United Nation's human rights office said Tuesday that most of the 108 people killed there were civilians. Reuters is reporting that entire families were slaughtered in their homes.
[Related: 'Victims were summarily executed']
Nuland said U.N. observers had confirmed the deaths of more than 90 people, "including at least 30 children under the age of 10" in an attack "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," she said. "We hold the Syrian government responsible for this slaughter of innocent lives."
"We encourage all countries to condemn the actions of the Assad regime through similar action," said Nuland.
The United States closed its embassy in Damascus in February, and withdrew Ambassador Robert Ford and other American diplomats in response to concerns about their safety.
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