Feb. 24 - Western and Arab nations meeting in Tunisia are expected to demand that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad halt his 11-month-old crackdown. Deborah Lutterbeck reports.
Foreign ministers from more than 50 countries gather in Tunis for the first meeting of the "Friends of Syria." Western and Arab nations are expected to call for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to halt his 11-month-old crackdown on the opposition and allow aid to be delivered to desperate civilians trapped by the escalating violence. The meeting comes as amateur video continues to show relentless attacks on the city of Homs and mounting world outrage over violence that has killed thousands of people during the uprising. Video, which could not be independently verified by Reuters appears to members of the Free Syria Army taking up arms. With little sign of any international resolve to intervene to end the violence, Syria's opposition appeared to be taking matters into its own hands, saying they are supplying weapons to rebels inside Syria while Western and other states turned a blind eye. UK Foreign Minister William Hague. (SOUNDBITE) (English)UK FOREIGN MINISTER WILLIAM HAGUE, SAYING: "This is a situation that has gone on for nearly a year, in which more than 7,000 people have died. so we have it intensify the pressure and we have to continue all this work. I think, the fact that is many countries have come together, and will now be taking many measures together, diplomatic measures, reducing diplomatic ties, increasing the economic pressure, I think that is going to make a steadily greater impact, frustratingly slow though that is." Pro-Assad supporters were also on hand as they attempted to gain access to the meetings. An updated draft declaration from the meeting is calling on Syria to quote "immediately cease all violence." There are also calls to allow the United Nations access to Homs, and to let agencies deliver aid to civilians affected by the violence. Delegates say that with efforts to end the violence through the United Nations blocked by Russia and China, the aim of the meeting is to challenge Assad to let in aid and to lay the groundwork for an eventual handover of power in Syria. Deborah Lutterbeck, Reuters.