UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan departs for meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus
UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan departs for meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus Reuters

Global condemnation of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is intensifying following the massacre of 108 people -- including many women and children -- in the city of Houla on Friday.

In retaliation, at least eight major western nations, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Canada and Australia, have expelled various senior Syrian diplomats, and even Assad’s erstwhile ally Russia has condemned the atrocities.

Washington is kicking out Zuheir Jabbour, the Syrian charge d'affaires.

We hold the Syrian government responsible for this slaughter of innocent lives, said a spokesman for the U.S. State Department.

Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, told Le Monde newspaper of Paris: Assad is the murderer of his people. He must relinquish power. The sooner the better.”

France’s newly elected President Francois Hollande, who told reporters that the Syrian ambassador in Paris will be expelled, said the decision was taken after discussions with French allies.

Australia’s foreign minister Bob Carr said in a statement: Australians are appalled by this massacre, and we will pursue a unified international response to hold those responsible to account. This massacre of more than 100 men, women and children in Houla was a hideous and brutal crime.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a former ally of Assad, also expressed his outrage over the killings.

To carry out this kind of murder ... while the United Nations observer mission is carrying out its mission in Syria … is wretched, he told officials of his ruling AK Party.

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.”

Reuters reported that other nations may take similar actions against Assad, 15 months after a brutal repression against Syrian opposition forces and civilians have killed at least 10,000 people.

Even Russia -- which has up until now, warned the West against taking any military intervention in Syria -- has condemned the Damascus regime in the wake of the Houla massacre.

The [Syrian] government bears the main responsibility for what is going on, said foreign minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow, following a meeting with his British counterpart William Hague.

Any government in any country bears responsibility for the security of its citizens.

But Lavrov also did not spare the Syrian opposition.

Both sides [in Syria] have obviously had a hand in the deaths of innocent people, including several dozen women and children, he said.

This area is controlled by the rebels, but it is also surrounded by the government troops.

The unusually strong language from a senior Russian official suggests Moscow’s patience with Assad may be close to expiring.

Alexei Malashenko, a Middle East expert with the Carnegie Moscow Center, told DP-News: Assad is driving himself and Russia into a corner. [Assad] has definitely gotten the sense that he may lose Russia's sympathy, and he may step back a bit.

Nonetheless, a Syrian government official denied culpability in the Houla massacre, accusing the opposition of carrying it out. The United Nations said it will investigate who was behind the grisly murders.

Meanwhile, U.N. special envoy Kofi Annan again met with Assad to save a hopelessly ineffective six-point peace plan for Syria.

After the parley with Assad, a spokesman for Annan said the envoy expressed the grave concern of the international community about the [continuing] violence in Syria.”

The Syrian government has resisted U.N. demands that it withdraw soldiers and weapons from heavily populated areas, fearing that such measures would only strengthen the opposition.