Massacre of children in Houla is a 'game-changer' for Syria
Killing of 49 children by Assad regime has galvanised attempts to persuade China and Russia to fall into line on Syria
INTERNATIONAL reaction to the massacre of 108 people - including 49 children - by Syrian forces in Houla on Friday and Saturday began to harden last night as the United Nations Security Council condemned the Damascus regime "in the strongest possible terms".
"The killing of children is a game-changer," a senior diplomat in New York told The Times. "Everybody has had to move forward fast since [the attack]."
The Security Council said that the attacks had "involved a series of government artillery and tank shellings on a residential neighbourhood" and demanded that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad withdraw artillery from around Houla.
Significantly, Russia and China, two of the permanent members of the Security Council who have blocked previous attempts at the UN to criticise Assad and his regime, signed up to the harshly worded statement.
It had earlier appeared unlikely that the Russians would criticise its long-standing Middle Eastern ally, after deputy foreign minister Gennady Gatilov had tweeted: "The tragic events in Syria and the deaths of tens of people deserve condemnation. However, it is necessary to seriously examine the causes of what happened."
Russia is becoming the crux of Western efforts to maintain pressure on Assad's regime, which shot two people yesterday for protesting against the killings.
British foreign secretary William Hague will be in Moscow today to, as he said on his Twitter feed, "call on Russia to support rapid and unequivocal pressure on the Assad regime and accountability for crimes".
A Foreign Office source told The Guardian that Hague "will engage them on a wide range of issues of concern to Britain and Russia – chief among them the situations in both Iran and Syria".
The West will be looking to repeat its policy in Libya last year, where it succeeded in isolating Colonel Gaddafi from his previous international sponsors before moving to depose him - hence the increasing efforts to split Syria from its Russian and Chinese backers.
In this scenario, according to The Independent, Assad could "look for longer-term support to Iran and, to a lesser extent, Iraq, both Shia powers... [who] see Syria as being targeted by the Sunni rulers of Saudi Arabia and Qatar".