Syria announced the expulsion of diplomats from the U.S. and 8 European countries Tuesday, saying they were "no longer welcome." Most of the diplomats had already left Syria of their countries' own accords.
The Syrian action is a diplomatic countermove to the coordinated decision a week ago by a string of Western countries to expel the Syrian ambassadors in their capitals. This was done in protest of the Houla massacre in which more than 100 people were slaughtered.
"Some countries have informed our diplomatic missions and our embassies' staff that they are unwelcome," Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdessi said in a statement.
He said Damascus has decided to take a "reciprocal measure" against ambassadors from the U.S., Britain, Turkey, Switzerland, France, Italy and Spain. Several Canadian, Bulgarian and Belgian commercial attaches were also affected, Makdessi said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin began a three-day visit to China, partly devoted to the Syrian crisis. Moscow and Beijing continue to oppose international military intervention in Syria. "On the Syrian issue, China and Russia have remained in close touch and coordination in New York, Moscow and Beijing," said Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesman Liu Weimin.
Syrian forces reportedly attacked several towns across the country Tuesday, killing at least six people. The Syrian army stormed the town of Kafarzita in the province of Hama after three days of bombing, the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights (SOHR) reported.
In addition, several locations including the rebel city of Homs were bombed and battles were fought against the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in the Latakia region. At Idleb, near the Turkish border, four civilians were killed and others were seriously injured overnight during what was termed a "major military operation" in the town of Kafroueid.