Obama, Clinton Talk Tough on Syria

Posted February 24th, 2012 at 5:40 pm (UTC-5)
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U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday had strong words about the increasingly violent situation in Syria.

Mr. Obama said the U.S. and its allies will consider “every tool available” to stop the slaughter of innocent people in Syria. He said it is absolutely imperative for the international community to send a clear message to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that it is time for the “regime to move on.”

The president's statement came after Clinton predicted that Mr. Assad will pay a “heavy cost” for violating the rights of the Syrian people and ignoring international will over his crackdown on the opposition.

Clinton met with representatives of more than 70 nations and international organizations in Tunisia Friday in a renewed effort to curb the bloodshed in Syria that has left thousands dead.

A group of Western and Arab-led nations, known as the “Friends of Syria,” gathered in the capital, Tunis, 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.

The Syrian National Council pressed the attending nations to consider arming the opposition if Mr. Assad's government fails to accept the Arab League initiative to curb the violence and does not end its bloody attack on the Syrian people.

In Syria, the International Committee of the Red Cross said it evacuated seven wounded people from the besieged neighborhood of Baba Amr in Homs. It was not clear if three foreign journalists were among them.

The journalists were wounded in a shelling attack earlier this week that also killed American-born veteran war correspondent Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik. The bodies of the two are also still in the area.

Syrian government forces continued a three-week long bombardment of Homs on Friday. Activists say at least 15 people were killed in the shelling.

The opposition Syrian council urged nations, singling out Russia, to press the Assad government to allow humanitarian aid to get into Syria.

Russia and China did not attend the Tunis meeting. Both powers have repeatedly blocked the United Nations Security Council from taking action against the Syrian government, saying the Council should not take sides in a domestic conflict. Clinton on Friday called their action “despicable.”

Homs residents say food, water and medical supplies are running dangerously low after almost three weeks of relentless attacks surrounding the opposition protest hub.

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.

Displaced Syrians living along the Lebanon-Syria border are looking to the “Friends of Syria” to help improve the humanitarian situation in their country. Rana Haju hopes the meeting will help her return home to Homs.

“We are calling on them to impose sanctions on Assad regime, and he should step down, enough oppression, we got displaced, I've been seven months here and I don't know anything about my family, I hope that we can return back to our country.''

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.

Hundreds of pro-Assad protesters tried to force their way onto the grounds of the hotel where the “Friends of Syria” group was meeting. Security clashed with the rowdy crowd as they tried to rush the venue.