'Friends of Syria' call for sanctions, end to violence
Arab and Western nations in Tunisia for the first "Friends of Syria" meeting yesterday called for an immediate end to violence in the country and for new sanctions on the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
The meeting of more than 60 foreign ministers in Tunisia saw calls for Arab peacekeepers to intervene and for the arming of the opposition, as well as a US warning that Assad would pay a heavy price for defying international will.
However, in a final declaration, the group called for the regime to immediately end all violence to allow for humanitarian aid to be brought in.
"The Friends' Group called on the Syrian government immediately to cease all violence and to allow free and unimpeded access by the UN and humanitarian agencies," it said.
"It demanded that the Syrian regime immediately permit humanitarian agencies to deliver vital relief goods and services to civilians affected by the violence," it said.
It also vowed to "press the Syrian regime to stop all acts of violence" by enforcing current sanctions and introducing new ones, including with travel bans, asset freezes, ceasing oil purchases, reducing diplomatic ties and preventing the shipment of arms.
It also recognised the main opposition umbrella group, the Syrian National Council (SNC), as "a legitimate representative of Syrians seeking peaceful democratic change" but fell short of giving it exclusive recognition.
Earlier, in a bid to step up its efforts to deal with the crisis, the UN named its former leader Kofi Annan as a joint UN-Arab League envoy for Syria.
"I look forward to having the full cooperation of all relevant parties and stakeholders in support of this united and determined effort... to help bring an end to the violence and human rights abuses, and promote a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis," Annan said after his appointment.
Meanwhile, Red Cross and Red Crescent ambulances finally entered the besieged Homs district of Baba Amr and evacuated seven Syrians wounded in bombardment by regime forces.
But the ambulances have not yet evacuated two wounded Western journalists and the bodies of two others, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross told AFP in Damascus.
Two injured journalists have made video appeals for help.
Frenchwoman Edith Bouvier needs surgery for a broken leg and and is said to be in a potentially life-threatening condition. Briton Paul Conroy, who has less severe leg injuries, also asked for outside help to bring him to safety.
Both were hurt in the attack which killed two other journalists: American Sunday Times reporter Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik.
In Tunis, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Assad would pay a "heavy cost" for ignoring the will of the international community after almost a year of brutal crackdowns on protesters.
At least 22 more civilians were killed in renewed violence yesterday.
Host nation Tunisia called for an Arab peacekeeping force to be sent in to help end to the killings, and for Assad to be granted immunity to persuade him to stand down.
Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani backed the call for peacekeepers.
More than 7,600 people have been killed since the uprising against Assad's rule erupted last March, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.
The main opposition umbrella group the Syrian National Council has warned that military intervention might be the "only option" to end the crackdown.
Western and Arab nations have so far rejected the idea of a foreign mission like the operation that helped topple Muammar Gaddafi's regime in Libya.
However, a Syrian opposition source said yesterday foreign powers are turning a blind eye to weapons purchases by Syrian exiles who are already smuggling light arms, communications equipment and night vision goggles to rebels inside Syria.
Syrian opposition supporters were also trying to bring anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons to the Free Syrian Army rebels, and to get retired Syrian officers into the country to help coordinate military opposition to President Bashar al-Assad, he added.
Hillary on Thursday described the SNC as a "credible representative" that would demonstrate that "there is an alternative" to Assad's regime.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe also endorsed the SNC as "the legitimate representative of the Syrian opposition.