ALTHOUGH 10 countries yesterday expelled Syrian diplomats in outrage at the massacre of 108 people, almost half of them children, the Department of International Relations and Co-operation could not see any reason to step up pressure against the Arab state.

SA had also been out of step with western nations on the Libyan transition last year - voting at the United Nations (UN) for a no-fly zone and then protesting vehemently when Muammar Gaddafi's forces were attacked.

The US, France, Britain, Canada, Germany, Italy, Spain, Australia, the Netherlands and Bulgaria have given Syria's envoys notice to leave their capitals in a move that underlined Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's diplomatic isolation.

But Department of International Relations and Co-operation spokesman Clayson Monyela said yesterday the massacre was no reason to change the relationship between SA and Syria. "We are complacent in our relationship with Syria and we have condemned the violence that has taken place there."

The department had encouraged "civilised discussion" with the Arab republic. He said he did not see why the actions of western nations should influence SA.

"We have put a statement on the department's website expressing our concern about the amount of people who have died and how the violence concerns us," he said.

The statement was published on April 14 in support of UN joint special envoy Kofi Annan and called for a "balanced resolution" to Syria's problems.

There has been no condemnation from SA of the killings in the town of Houla. The UN said entire families were killed in their homes on Friday, some by army tanks and others probably by pro-Assad militia.

Mr Annan said yesterday that Syria, suffering from persistent killings and abuses, was at a "tipping point" and he had appealed to Mr al-Assad to act immediately to halt the violence. He said in his talks in Damascus with Mr al-Assad he had "conveyed in frank terms the grave concern of the international community about the violence in Syria, including the recent shocking events in Houla."

He said Mr al-Assad had also condemned the killings, denied any role and blamed Islamist "terrorists".

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said yesterday Mr al-Assad was "the murderer of his people" and called on him to relinquish power.

US state department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland called the Houla attack "the most unambiguous indictment to date" of Damascus's refusal to implement UN resolutions. "We hold the Syrian government responsible for this slaughter of innocent lives," she said.

With Reuters