|Western and Arab nations in Istanbul sought to exert more pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad [Reuters]|
The leader of the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) has urged the international community to take serious action to halt the government’s deadly crackdown on an anti-government uprising at a meeting of the so-called “Friends of Syria” group in Turkey.
In an impassioned plea on Sunday at the opening of the meeting in Istanbul, Burhan Ghalioun, said: “We demand serious action. The Syrian regime will inevitably fall. Don’t prolong the catastrophe. The opposition is united; now it is time for you to
Burhan Ghalioun: Do not prolong the catastrophe
unite and support the Syrian opposition.”
Ghalioun called for urgent relief aid, for the setting up of humanitarian corridors in the country and for tangible support for the opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA).
In an apparent indication of growing co-operation between opposition factions, Ghalioun said the SNC would take charge of payments of salaries to all members of the FSA.
He urged the international community to recognise the SNC as the sole representative of the Syrian people.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, called for the international community to speak with one voice in his opening remarks.
“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, and men of all professions,” Erdogan said.
“We also believe the international community has a moral obligation to act. “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.”
Amid demands from some for active intervention to assist Syria’s opposition, Erdogan said Syrians’ right to self-defence should be accepted.
“If the United Nations Security Council refrains from taking on the responsibility, the international community will have no chance but to accept Syrians’ right to self-defence,” he said.
The meeting brings together representatives from western and Arab nations criticial of the government in Damascus and members of the SNC, and follows the first gathering of the Friends of Syria group in Tunisia in February.
But the group does not include Russia and China, which have blocked unified international action on Syria at UN Security Council level.
‘Enemies of Syria’
Syrian state news agency (SANA) said the meeting in Istanbul was “a series of related circles of conspiracy against Syria as the participants in it are enemies of Syria, not its friends”.
Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, Qatar’s prime minister, said “words needed to be turned into action on the ground”, while Nabil el-Araby, the head of the Arab League said it was time for the international community to “bravely address the situation in Syria”.
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.
The meeting comes with Syrian security forces continuing their assault on opposition strongholds, seemingly in defiance of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s formal commitment to a six-point peace plan proposed by UN and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.
Government ‘true to form’
“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.
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.
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.
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.