|Prasun Sonwalkar and Natasha Chaku,
London/Melbourne, May 29 - Toughening their stand on Syria, Britain and Australia today announced expulsion of the country's diplomats in the wake of the recent massacre of children and women at Houla, describing the killing of 108 people there as "sickening" and "hideous".
While Britain said it was expelling Syrian Charge d'affaires Ghasan Dalla and two other diplomats, who have been given seven days to go back, Australia announced it had asked two Syrian diplomats, including the highest-ranked, to leave the country within 72 hours, amid reports that US, Germany, Spain, France, Canada and Italy were taking similar action.
Their move came as the UN said that most of the 108 people killed in the massacre in Syria's Houla region, including families and children, were summarily executed.
"Most of the victims were shot at close range and the executions were carried out by pro-regime militias," Rupert Colville, the spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, was quoted by the BBC as saying.
In London, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said: "We are increasing the pressure on the Assad regime and getting the message across that the international community is appalled by the murder of so many innocent people. Time will run out for the (Kofi) Annan (peace) plan and they (the Syrian regime) need to make a choice of what they are going to do."
"So as part of that pressure today we have again called the Syrian charge in London to the Foreign Office. He has been given seven days to leave the country. Other Syrian diplomats, two other diplomats, will be expelled at the same time.
"Our allies and partners around the world will be taking similar action. Of course we will seek other ways to increase the pressure - we are discussing in the EU a further tightening of sanctions," he said.
Syrian Charge d'affaires Dalla was summoned to the UK Foreign Office yesterday also to see Political Director, Sir Geoffrey Adams, who made clear the UK's condemnation of the massacre of 108 people, including 49 children and 34 women, in Houla on May 25, calling it a "sickening and evil crime."
Sir Geoffrey said that an urgent international investigation should be carried out into the massacre and those responsible for acts of violence should be identified and held accountable.
He said that unless the Syrian regime ceased all military operations immediately and implemented Kofi Annan's six-point plan in full, the international community would take further quick and robust action in response.
He stressed that the responsibility to end the violence lay squarely with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and those around him, and that spiralling conflict and worsening sectarian violence was a product of the regime's brutal response to dissent, the British Foreign Office said.
In Canberra, Australian government announced that it was expelling Syrian Charge d'affaires Jawdat Ali and another diplomat, saying that they had been given 72 hours to leave the country.
Australian Foreign Minister Bobb Carr said he expected other countries to take similar action.
"This massacre of civilians in Houla is a hideous and brutal crime," Carr said. "In its wake, the onus is on the Syrian Government to demonstrate a commitment to peace and immediately withdraw from military action."
In Canada also, Foreign Minister John Baird said that the Syrian diplomats and their families have five days to leave the country, while French President Francois Hollande was quoted as saying in Paris that Syrian envoy Lamia Shakkour will be notified "today or tomorrow" that she must leave.
The UN estimates 9,000 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising began against Syrian President Bashar Assad's rule in March 2011. PTI