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UpdateCNN reports the State Department has expelled Syrian charge d'affaires Zuheir Jabbour. "He & his family have 72 hours to leave US."

 

The first tangible international consequences of the Syrian massacre in Houla are beginning materialize. On Tuesday, with the United Nations confirming grisly details about the execution-style killings of 108 people last week, a string of nations have begun expelling Syrian diplomats as the U.S. military signals that a backup intervention plan is being drawn up.  

One-by-one, across the globe, foreign ministries, especially Western ones, announced the expulsion of diplomats this morning. France 24 reports that French President Fançois Hollande will expel Syrian Ambassador Lamia Shakkour "today or tomorrow." In a tweet, the AP reports that Canada is completely clearing house "expelling all Syrian diplomats" and that Italy says its Syrian ambassador is "not welcome following the massacre."  The Guardian reports that Britain, Germany and the U.S. have expelled their Syrian diplomats while The Wall Street Journal adds Australia to the list. "The Syrian Government can expect no further official engagement with Australia until it abides by the United Nations ceasefire," Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr announced in a statement. "This massacre of more than 100 men, women and children in Houla was a hideous and brutal crime."

Of course, this lineup of nations has long been critical of Syria's brutal crackdown on its people so it's not clear how much a globally coordinated snub of its diplomats will push the regime to comply with the UN's ceasefire deal. Still it does add additional pressure to President Bashar al-Assad's regime, which is being cajoled in other ways. On Monday, one of Syria's key allies, Russia, backed away from its support of the Assad regime, saying the government bears the most blame for violence in the country while opposition groups deserves some as well. "Both sides have obviously had a hand in the deaths of innocent people, including several dozen women and children," Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said. "This area is controlled by the rebels, but it is also surrounded by government troops." He added that government forces had obviously used artillery and tanks to shell Houla, in an announcement that came a day after Russia joined the UN Security Council in placing blame on Assad's regime for the Houla massacre. 

The second form of pressure on Syria concerns the shifting mode of an international intervention. While the U.S. has not threatened to intervene in Syria, military leaders are speaking about it in a markedly different tone than just weeks earlier, especially Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey. In previous statements, Dempsey has outwardly warned against any intervening in Syria, emphasizing the Assad regime's strength and the opposition's weaknesses. However, on Fox News this weekend, Dempsey appeared less worried about the risks involved and said an intervention may be necessary if the "atrocities" continue. "Of course--there is always a military option," he said. "You'll always find military leaders to be somewhat cautious about the use of force, because we're never entirely sure what comes out on the other side. But that said, it may come to a point with Syria because of the atrocities."

The brutality of those atrocities sparked fresh outrage this morning, as the United Nations described gruesome amateur videos of dead men, women and children who were shot at close-range and in their homes. "What is very clear is this was an absolutely abominable event that took place in Houla, and at least a substantial part of it was summary executions of civilians, women and children," said Rupert Colville, the U.N.'s High Commissioner for Human Rights. "At this point, it looks like entire families were shot in their houses." It's clear the growing displays of violence are testing how much the international community can stomach Assad's regime. Is this a tipping point?

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