(Reuters) - 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 President Bashar 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 U.N.-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 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 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 U.N. Security Council,” Erdogan told a meeting of his ruling AK Party.
Writing by Angus MacSwan; Editing by Jon Boyle