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dinsdag, mei 29, 2012

Syrian diplomats expelled as massacre outrage grows

Syrian: Dead baby had pacifier in mouth
  • Australia expels Syrian diplomats after a massacre in Houla kills 108
  • Houla resident: Regime forces "pulled out their guns and sprayed us like sheep"
  • Analysts doubt the massacre in Houla will break a diplomatic deadlock

(CNN) -- International envoy Kofi Annan is set to meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday, days after a gruesome massacre that killed 49 children indicated Annan's peace plan has not quelled the 14-month bloodshed.

After arriving in Damascus on Monday, the U.N.-Arab League special envoy condemned Friday's massacre of 108 people in the town of Houla and emphasized his six-point peace plan, which had been agreed upon by the Syrian government and opposition members.

"Our goal is to stop this suffering. It must end, and it must end now," Annan said in a statement. "The six-point plan has to be implemented comprehensively. And this is not happening."

As Annan tried to salvage the U.N.-backed plan, which calls for a cease-fire, Australia announced it was expelling Syrian diplomats from the country after the Houla massacre.

"The Syrian Government can expect no further official engagement with Australia until it abides by the UN ceasefire and takes active steps to implement the peace plan agreed with Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan," Australia's minister for foreign affairs, Sen. Bob Carr, said in a statement.

But months of diplomatic efforts and economic sanctions have yet to quash the violence, and anger over perceived inaction by the world leaders boiled over after the grisly massacre in Houla.

"This massacre -- the Houla massacre -- is a turning point," said Fouad Ajami, a senior fellow and Stanford University's Hoover Institution.

Residents in Houla say Syrian regime forces terrorized the town, a suburb of the anti-government bastion of Homs.

"They crammed us into a room, pulled out their guns and sprayed us like sheep," one woman, apparently wounded, said in a video posted on YouTube. "My father, brother and mother died."

CNN cannot verify the authenticity of the video.

But horrific images of dozens of mutilated children's corpses prompted a rare moment of unity on Sunday from the United Nations Security Council.

Even Russia, the staunchest defender of the Syrian regime on the council, signed on to a statement that condemned the Syrian government for its "outrageous use of force against (the) civilian population."

But few Middle East watchers predict the atrocities in Houla will break the diplomatic deadlock that has cemented itself around Syria for the last 15 months.

"Nobody can see these images and not react," said Rami Khouri, a veteran analyst of the Arab world who lectures at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon. "The problem is no one has figured out an effective way to get involved and bring this conflict to an end."

Some say many countries will continue sitting on the sidelines until the United States takes the lead.

"What you need is American leadership. It's a false choice that we can do nothing, or we can put boots on the ground," said Fran Townsend, a CNN contributor on national security issues.

As analysts and world leaders ponder what to do next, pro-government gangs have returned to Houla, where food, water and medicine are in short supply, one resident said.

"After the stuff we've seen, we can't feel anything. ... We're used to the sights now, the blood, the sound of gunfire," said the resident, who CNN is not naming because of safety concerns.

"They only thing we have here is the (rebel) Free (Syrian) Army. It's the only thing that can protect us after God," the resident said.

As part of a ruthless campaign to crush what started out as a peaceful protest movement, al-Assad's security forces shelled cities, carried out systematic torture in prisons and opened fire on opposition demonstrations and funerals. The U.N. Human Rights Commissioner has repeatedly accused al-Assad's regime of crimes against humanity.

It did not take long for Western governments to call for al-Assad's ouster. But almost 15 months after the uprising began, opponents have been unable to formulate a plan to dislodge the family that has ruled Syria for more than 40 years.

Unlike in Libya, where NATO-led airstrikes contributed to deposing longtime ruler Moammar Gadhafi, al-Assad has powerful regional allies in his corner: Iran, Russia, and, to an extent, China.

"The Obama administration doesn't really want a clash with Russia, China, or Iran in Syria. That would negatively impact oil prices (in an election year)," said Omer Taspinar, a Washington-based analyst with the Brookings Institution.

"Overall, the strategy coming from the White House is procrastinate, try to emphasize the diplomatic initiative, talk about helping the opposition, but do not really ratchet up rhetoric into full confrontation with Russia and Iran."

U.N. officials say more than 9,000 people, most of them civilians, have been killed and tens of thousands more have been uprooted since the crisis began in March 2011. Opposition groups report a death toll of more than 11,000 people.

CNN can confirm neither details from Syria nor the authenticity of videos, as the Syrian government limits access by foreign journalists.

CNN's Ivan Watson, Arwa Damon, Yasmin Amer, Anderson Cooper and Holly Yan contributed to this report.


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