UN envoy warns Syrian crisis at 'tipping point' after massacre
SYRIAS PRESIDENT Bashar al-Assad came under increasing international pressure last night as UN envoy Kofi Annan warned the crisis there had reached tipping point and French president François Hollande said military intervention cannot be ruled out if it has UN Security Council backing.
Mr Hollande said Moscow and Beijing together presented the main obstacle to the adoption of tougher sanctions against Mr Assad.
“It is not possible to allow Bashar al-Assad’s regime to massacre its own people . . . It is down to myself and others to convince Russia and China, and also to find a solution which is not necessarily a military one,” Hollande, who is due to meet Russian president Vladimir Putin on Friday, told French television. “We should find another solution.”
The warnings came as France and eight other countries expelled Syrian diplomats in protest at the massacre of 108 people, almost half of them children, in the central Syrian town of Houla last Friday.
UN peacekeeping chief Hervé Ladsous, whose monitors - who include members of the Irish Defence Forces - are in Syria, contradicted the Assad regime’s claim that the killings were carried out by “terrorist gangs”.
He said some victims had been killed by artillery shells.
“Now that points ever so clearly to the responsibility of the government,” he said. “Only the government has heavy weapons, has tanks, has howitzers.”
Mr Ladsous added that other victims had died from knife or gunshot wounds.
“That of course is less clear but probably points the way to the shabbihas, the local militia.”
Rupert Colville, spokesman for the UN human rights office in Geneva, said 49 children and 32 women were among the victims, many of whom were shot at close range.
“At this point, it looks like entire families were shot in their houses,” he added.
The US, France, Britain, Canada, Germany, Italy, Spain, Australia and Bulgaria gave Syrias envoys hours or days to leave their capitals in a co-ordinated move designed to isolate Mr Assad further.
US state department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland called the Houla killings “the most unambiguous indictment to date” of Assads refusal to implement UN resolutions.
“We hold the Syrian government responsible for this slaughter of innocent lives,” she said.
UN and Arab League envoy Mr Annan, who is in Syria to try to salvage a six-week-old peace plan that has failed to stop the bloodshed, told Mr Assad of the “grave concern” of the international community.
“We are at a tipping point,” he told reporters in Damascus. He called on opposition forces to cease violence but appealed first to the government, as the stronger side, to take what he called “bold steps now - not tomorrow, now” by stopping all military operations and showing “maximum restraint”.
Russia, one of Mr Assads remaining allies, accused governments seeking regime change in Syria of exploiting the Houla killings for their own purposes.
“We are alarmed that some countries . . . are starting to use this event as an excuse to put forth demands of the need for military action in an attempt to put pressure on the UN Security Council,” Russias foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said.
Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore said the current situation was “utterly unacceptable” and reiterated the Government’s “outrage” at the massacre in Houla. He said Ireland and its EU partners would continue to give full support to Mr Annan’s efforts to “secure a real ceasefire and begin a political process.
“We must all work to support his efforts, as there is no other plan available to prevent a complete descent into even greater violence, he added.
There is no resident Syrian diplomatic mission in Dublin as Ireland falls under the remit of the Syrian embassy in London.
“If there had been a resident Syrian ambassador here, they would have been requested to leave,” said a Department of Foreign Affairs source.