Diplomats: ‘Friends of Syria’ to Demand Entry of Aid Within Days

Posted February 24th, 2012 at 4:50 am (UTC-5)
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A group of Western and Arab-led nations gathering in Tunisia is preparing to demand that Syrian authorities pledge to immediately end all violence and allow the delivery of foreign humanitarian aid to hard-hit areas within days.

In a draft declaration to be presented at Friday's “Friends of Syria” meeting, diplomats are expected to call on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to order an immediate stop to his crackdown on an 11-month uprising, so that the aid can be delivered within 48 hours.

Residents of the central Syrian city of Homs say food, water and medical supplies are running dangerously low after almost three weeks of relentless bombardment by pro-Assad forces surrounding the opposition protest hub.

The “Friends of Syria” group says it is committed to enforcing unspecified sanctions, which could include travel bans, asset freezes, and a halt to Syrian oil purchases.

Representatives of more than 70 nations and international organizations will attend the gathering, among them U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Russia and China have said they will not attend the Tunis meeting. Both powers have repeatedly blocked the U.N. Security Council from taking action against the Syrian government, saying the Council should not take sides in a domestic conflict.

Ahead of the meeting, the United Nations named its former secretary-general Kofi Annan as a joint U.N.-Arab League envoy on the Syria crisis. It said his mission will be to end the violence and promote a peaceful resolution.

Tunisia's presidential spokesman said Thursday his government will propose a peacekeeping force to resolve the Syrian crisis.

Speaking on a visit to London on Thursday, Clinton said Syrian opposition forces resisting the government crackdown “will somehow, somewhere find the means to defend themselves as well as (to) begin offensive measures.” She did not elaborate.

Rebels of the Free Syrian Army have been urging the international community to arm them, but Western and Arab nations have been reluctant to agree, fearing foreign military intervention could make the situation worse.

Rights activists say at least 40 people were killed across Syria on Thursday, adding to the nearly 6,400 civilians and 1,680 army defectors already killed in the uprising began last March.