Arab, Western States Vow Support for Syrian Opposition as Death Toll Mounts

60 countries at Tunisia Friends of Syria conference demand access for aid delivery, rule out military intervention; activists report 103 killed Friday; Obama: Its time for Assad regime to move on.


Western and Arab powers urged Damascus on Friday to immediately cease all violence and called for enforcing tighter restrictions and sanctions on President Bashar Assad's regime, as activists reported a further 103 peopled, including 14 children were killed by regime forces. 

Hillary Clinton at Friends of Syria conference, Tunisia - AFP - February 24, 2012

The Friends of Syria conference, held Friday in Tunisia, demanded Damascus to immediately permit humanitarian agencies to deliver aid goods and services to civilians affected by the bloodshed, as it ruled out any military intervention and preferred a peaceful transfer of power.

The group is modeled on the contact group of countries that supported the rebels who overthrew Muammar Gadhafi's regime last year. Unlike Libya, however, the prospects of a military intervention in Syria are seen as slim.

"We want a democratic transfer of power in Syria without foreign military interference," Tunisian Foreign Minister Rafik Abdessalem said following the meeting.

He said the countries in the meeting vowed support to the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC), which they have recognized as "a legitimate representative of Syrians seeking peaceful democratic change," a step below full recognition.

A member of the SNC said the conference failed to meet the expectations of the Syrian people.

"The conference was not up to our expectations nor has it met the aspiration of the Syrian people, because it did not talk about safe corridors and no-fly-zone regions," Walid al-Bouni told dpa.

"Yet, what was good is that there were 60 countries attending and that there will be other conferences in Turkey and Doha."

Ministers and senior officials from more than 60 countries, including the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Turkey and Egypt, have attended the Tunisia meeting. Notable absences include Russia and China, who have blocked two United Nations resolutions at the Security Council condemning the Syrian government's crackdown on an 11-month uprising.

"We want to see the Security Council take a decision to stop violence in Syria," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told reporters in Tunis.

She said Damascus ignored all warnings from the international community and that Assad's departure from power should be part of the transitional period.

"I am sure al-Assad's days are numbered," Clinton told reporters, saying the government bears full responsibility for the humanitarian crisis in the country.

Meanwhile, U.S. President Barack Obama and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt called Friday on the international community to continue sending the message to Syria's president to step down.

"It is time for that regime to move on, and it is time to stop the killing of Syrian citizens by their own government," Obama said in the Oval Office with Thorning-Schmidt.

Obama said the international community would "look for every tool available to prevent the slaughter of innocents in Syria."

Seated next to Obama, Thorning-Schmidt called the situation in Syria "horrendous."

Violence gripped restive provinces Friday, with at least 103 people killed including 14 children, an activist said.

"Thirty people including five children were killed in restive areas in Homs, mainly in Baba Amr, Inshaat and al-Bayada," said Omar Homsi, who is based in the central province of Homs.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) along with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent have entered the restive area of Baba Amr, said the ICRC's Damascus spokesman Saleh Dabbikeh.

Activists said the ICRC team began evacuating wounded women and children from the Baba Amr neighbourhood, which has been under heavy shelling by government troops since the beginning of the month.

According to activists, seven children were among 30 people killed in Idlib province near the Turkish border. In central Hama province, 27 people were killed, while three deaths were reported in northern Aleppo, the activists said.

In Tunisia, Arab League head Nabil al-Arabi called for the UN Security Council to help establish a ceasefire in Syria.

Addressing the conference, Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki said a power transfer deal, similar to the one implemented in Yemen that gave outgoing president Ali Abdullah Saleh immunity against prosecution, was the best way to end the bloodshed in Syria.

Tunisia was the birthplace of pro-democracy revolts that have swept the Middle East for the past year.