"The U.N. said Tuesday that entire families were shot in their homes during a massacre in Syria on Friday that killed more than 100 people, including children," The Associated Press reports. And as nations around the world have reacted this morning to news about the atrocities, they're expelling Syrian diplomats in protest.
According to U.N. officials, most of the victims were shot at close range. And, the AP adds:
"Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the conclusions were based on accounts gathered by U.N. monitors and corroborated by other sources. He said U.N. monitors found that fewer than 20 of the 108 people killed in the west-central area of Houla were killed by artillery fire."
The BBC adds that "survivors have described gunmen entering homes, firing indiscriminately and slitting the throats of children."
As NPR's Kelly McEvers has told our Newscast Desk, "the violence started after protests erupted in the village on Friday. Residents say the Syrian army began shelling protesters, anti-government rebels fought back, and the army later bombarded mostly civilian areas while pro-government militias went door-to-door, slaughtering people."
The Assad regime, meanwhile, has blamed "terrorists" for the killings.
Over the weekend, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said Friday's "indiscriminate and possibly deliberate" killings may constitute crimes against humanity.
Former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, who has tried to broker a peace deal in Syria, met with President Bashar Assad in Damascus today. There's no word yet on what, if any, progress was made at that meeting.
Since protests began in Syria in March 2011, Bloomberg Businessweek writes, "the U.N. estimates that as many as 10,000 people have died," most of them at the hands of government forces. "Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague told the British Broadcasting Corp. on May 27 that as many as 15,000 may have died."
Friday's mass killings have sparked condemnation from around the world. Today, French President Francois Hollande announced that Syria's ambassador to his country is being expelled, the AP reports.
Update at 12:40 p.m. ET. Annan Says "The Violence Must Stop":
Annan told reporters in Damascus a short time ago that in his meeting with Assad, "I conveyed in frank terms the grave concern of the international community about the violence in Syria, including the recent shocking events in Houla."
Assad, said Annan, must take "bold steps now — not tomorrow, now — to create momentum" that leads to implementation of the former secretary general's peace plan.
"The violence must stop and the six point plan must be implemented," Annan said. "I need the president to act now. I need other parties to do their part."
Update at 11:10 a.m. ET. U.S. Statement.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland has emailed reporters to say:
"In response to the May 25 massacre in the village of Houla, today the United States informed the Syrian Charge d'Affaires Zuheir Jabbour of his expulsion from the United States. He has 72 hours to leave the country. We took this action in coordination with partner countries including Australia, Canada, Spain, the United Kingdom, Italy, France, and Germany. ...
"We hold the Syrian government responsible for this slaughter of innocent lives. This massacre is the most unambiguous indictment to date of the Syrian government's flagrant violations of its UN Security Council obligations under Resolutions 2042 and 2043 along with the regime's ongoing threat to peace and security."
Update at 10:20 a.m. ET. U.S. Joins Expulsions:
The State Department says that Syria's charge d'affaires in the U.S. is being expelled, Reuters reports. On Saturday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the U.S. "condemns in the strongest possible terms [Friday's] massacre."
Update at 8:50 a.m. ET. Rounding Up The Expulsions.
According to the AP: "German, Italian and Spanish foreign ministries have announced that Syrian ambassadors are being expelled — following similar moves by France, Britain, Australia, and Canada after a massacre in which the United Nations says families were shot at close range in their homes."
Update at 8:05 a.m. ET. Canada As Well: Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird said today that his country will expel the three Syrian diplomats remaining in Ottawa, Reuters reports.
Update at 7:50 a.m. ET: Britain and Germany are also expelling Syrian diplomats, according to reports from the AP and Reuters.