Syria’s “friends” try to twist screw on Assad

ISTANBUL, (Reuters) – Western and Arab nations stepped up verbal pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad yesterday, mistrusting his acceptance of a plan to end a year of bloodshed, but stopped short of arming rebels or fully recognising an opposition council.

In a sign of impatience with what they see as stalling by Assad, the “Friends of Syria” urged peace envoy Kofi Annan to set a timeline for next steps, including a return to the U.N. Security Council, if the Syrian leader fails to halt bloodshed.

Violence has raged on unabated despite Annan’s mediation.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported at least 41 people killed across Syria on Sunday, including five in bombardment of pro-opposition districts in Homs.

In a final communique, the 83-nation group said Assad did not have an open-ended opportunity to meet his commitments to Annan, who is acting for the United Nations and Arab League.

“The regime will be judged by its deeds rather than its promises,” the communique said. Security Council members China and Russia and Syria’s ally Iran were among countries that stayed away from the conference in Istanbul.

Assad has accepted, but not yet implemented, Annan’s six-point peace plan, which calls for the military to cease fire, withdraw from towns and cities, and allow humanitarian access.

“We will not let the Syrian regime misuse another opportunity, which is the last chance for the situation in Syria,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told a news conference after the meeting he hosted.

The “Friends of Syria” recognised the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) as a legitimate representative of all Syrians, and “noted” it as the main opposition interlocutor with the international community – wording that fell short of full recognition of a group hampered by chronic disunity.

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