‘Friends of Syria’ to demand ceasefire, aid access

AMMAN/BEIRUT (Reuters) – Western and Arab nations will demand that Syrian forces implement an immediate ceasefire to allow relief supplies to reach desperate civilians in bombarded cities such as Homs when they meet in Tunis today.

Piling pressure on President Bashar al-Assad, UN investigators accused his security apparatus of crimes against humanity as world outrage mounted over violence that has cost thousands of lives during an almost year-long popular revolt against his 11-year rule.

The Syrian uprising will only intensify, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at a London conference. “There will be increasingly capable opposition forces. They will from somewhere, somehow find the means to defend themselves as well as begin offensive measures,” she told reporters.

The “Friends of Syria” meeting, that Clinton will attend, will call on Syrian forces to stop firing to give international aid groups access to areas worst hit by the violence which are running out of medicine and food, according to a draft declaration obtained by Reuters.

The draft also “recognised the Syrian National Council as a legitimate representative of Syrians seeking peaceful democratic change”, a phrase which appeared to fall short of full endorsement of the most prominent group opposed to Assad.

About 70 nations, including the United States, Turkey, and European and Arab countries that want Assad to step down, will take part in the talks, but Russia and China, which have jointly vetoed two UN Security Council resolutions on Syria, say they will stay away.

US officials avoided answering questions on whether the group may discuss the possibility of arming the opposition, something that some nations favour and that the United States, in a change in emphasis, on Tuesday suggested could become an alternative.

The Syrian National Council is allied with the Free Syrian Army (FSA), made up mostly of army deserters fighting security forces that have sought to crush protests against Assad, whose minority Alawite sect dominates Sunni-majority Syria.

Syrian security forces lined up and shot dead 13 men and boys from one extended family, which has the same name as the FSA’s commander Riad al-Asaad, in the village of Kfartoun in Hama province yesterday, activists in Hama city said.

It was not immediately clear if the victims were related to Asaad, who is based in Turkey and comes from the northwestern province of Idlib.

Activists said three people were also killed in shelling of the nearby village of Soubin. The bodies of five Syrian workers who disappeared two days ago after crossing from Lebanon on their way to Hama were found yesterday, they said.

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