Middle East

Syria is expelling Western diplomats, foreign ministry says

U.S., European diplomats no longer welcome

 

Syria barred a string of U.S. and European diplomats Tuesday, saying they were "no longer welcome" as the country plunged into its most profound international isolation in decades.

Last week, Western nations expelled Syrian diplomats in a coordinated move over the Houla massacre, in which more than 100 people were slaughtered over one weekend in a cluster of small villages.

The U.N. says pro-regime gunmen were believed to be responsible for at least some of the killings. President Bashar Assad has insisted his forces had nothing to do with the massacre.

The countries targeted by the expulsion order have already pulled their ambassadors from Damascus, but the move was symbolic of how far diplomatic ties have disintegrated over the course of the uprising that began last year in March.

"Some countries have informed our diplomatic missions and our embassies' staff that they are unwelcome," Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdessi said in a statement.

He said Damascus has decided to take a "reciprocal measure" against ambassadors from the U.S., Britain, Turkey, Switzerland, France, Italy and Spain. A number of French, German, Canadian, Bulgarian and Belgian diplomats also are affected, Makdessi said.

Syria is struggling to crush an increasingly deadly uprising against Assad's rule, but the regime's deadly crackdown on dissent has brought widespread condemnation.