‘Friends of Syria’ meet in Istanbul

Representatives from 70 European, Arab and other countries are meeting in Turkey to consider ways of supporting the Syrian opposition and applying further international pressure to end a deadly crackdown on protests.

Hillary Clinton said in Riyadh that US is looking at sending non-lethal support to the opposition [Reuters

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, opened the meeting of the so-called “Friends of Syria” in Istanbul on Sunday by calling for the international community to speak with one voice.

“We believe geopolitical concerns and interests cannot rule our world. We refuse to take such a stand. We refuse to accept a situation where tanks are shooting women and children,” Erdogan said.

“We need to have our humanitarian values, if nothing else. We also believe the international community has a moral obligation to act. We must make sure that only our conscience speaks.

“It is crucial that we speak with one voice. The message that we give to the Syrian regime must be very exact, very precise… The bloodshed in Syria must stop. We demand this.”

Calling for tighter sanctions and for ways to hold Syrian leaders to account for abuses, Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said before the meeting that the US focus in Istanbul would be to “intensify” an array of international sanctions.

She also said the meeting would discuss sending more humanitarian aid to those in need, despite Syrian efforts to block it.

Clinton arrived in Istanbul late on Saturday from Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, where she had warned that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad risked backing out of his commitment to a six-point peace plan from UN and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.

“The Syrian government is staying true to form, unfortunately, making a deal and then refusing to implement it,” Clinton said. “And as of today, regime forces continue to shell civilians, lay siege to neighbourhoods, and even target places of worship.”

Clinton reaffirmed that Washington was looking at sending non-lethal support such as communications gear and medical aid to an increasingly armed opposition.

‘Democratic vision’

She also called for strengthening the unity of the opposition, including the leading Syrian National Council, and promoting their “democratic vision” so that it can “represent an alternative” to the Assad government.

She vowed to press the opposition “very hard” to properly represent Arabs, Kurds, Sunni Muslims, Alawites, Christians, Druze and other ethnic and religious groups.

She also said the US planned to raise the issue of holding Syrian leaders and security forces to account for suspected abuses amid allegations of murder, torture and indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas.

“We want to discuss how to help the Syrian people prepare to hold those responsible who have been committing these terrible acts of violence,” Clinton told a press conference with Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister.

More than 9,000 people, UN officials estimate, have died in the year since Assad’s forces began crushing pro-democracy protests inspired by revolutions that have swept the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen from power.

In Riyadh, the US and Gulf Arab states urged Annan to produce a “timeline for next steps” if Assad failed to stop the bloodshed despite his acceptance of the peace plan.

Annan’s plan calls for a commitment to stop all armed violence, a daily two-hour humanitarian ceasefire, media access to all areas affected by the fighting, an inclusive Syrian-led political process, a right to demonstrate, and release of arbitrarily detained people.

Annan is due to brief the UN Security Council on Monday about his efforts to have his peace plan implemented.

Source: AL Jazeera

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