By New York Times –
Syria’s Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday that more than a dozen Western ambassadors and envoys were no longer welcome in the country, a response to the coordinated expulsion last week of Syrian diplomats from the United States and 10 other nations.
A ministry statement listed 17 diplomats declared persona non grata by the Syrian government, including Ambassador Robert S. Ford of the United States and several others who have not been in the country for many months. The State Department closed its embassy in Damascus in February as the violent conflict worsened.
The move came a week after 11 Western nations acted in unison to expel envoys from Syria in an expression of outrage over the massacre in the Houla region, near Homs, that left 108 people dead, including many women and children.
The tit-for-tat response by the Syrian government on Tuesday appeared to underscore the largely symbolic nature of those expulsions and the determination of the President Bashar al-Assad to maintain his course despite the increasingly chaotic nature of the 15-month-old conflict.
“The Syrian Arab Republic still believes in the importance of dialogue based on principles of equality and mutual respect,” read the ministry statement, quoted by Syria’s state news agency, SANA. “We hope the countries that initiated these steps will adopt those principles, which would allow relations to return to normal again.”
Along with Mr. Ford, the list included diplomats from Britain, Switzerland, France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany and Canada, each of which joined in expelling Syria’s representatives last week, as well as the entire embassy staff from Turkey. The Turkish government has been especially critical of Mr. Assad.
The diplomatic wrangling has occurred against a backdrop of horrific violence in recent days, with reports of at least two further massacres of large numbers of people at close range. Activists have blamed the Syrian military for the brutality of the conflict and have reported a large number of attacks on military checkpoints over the past three days that killed dozens of Syrian soldiers.