Feb
24

Friends of Syria meeting to demand ceasefire – live updates

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• Friends of Syria seek ceasefire and humanitarian access
• UN accuses Assad regime of crimes against humanity
• Efforts to evacuate wounded reporters trapped in Homs

8.24am: (all times GMT) Welcome to Middle East Live. Syria continues to be main focus today as foreign ministers gather in Tunis for the first meeting of Friends of Syria group, and negotiations are under way to evacuate wounded reporters from Homs.

Here’s a roundup of the latest developments:

Arab and western foreign ministers are expected to demand a ceasefire and humanitarian access to Homs as they gather in Tunis for the first meeting of the Friends of Syria group. UN humanitarian envoy Valerie Amos was expected to attend the meeting, along with representatives from the International Committee for the Red Cross, which is already working with the Syrian authorities and opposition to arrange daily ceasefires to allow in humanitarian aid.

The UN has accused the Syrian regime of “crimes against humanity” – including the use of snipers against small children – and has drawn up a list of senior officials who should face investigation, reportedly including President Bashar al-Assad. The UN report found evidence that “army snipers and Shabbiha gunmen [from pro-Assad militias] posted at strategic points terrorised the population, targeting and killing small children, women and other unarmed civilians. Fragmentation mortar bombs were also fired into densely populated neighbourhoods.”

Two journalists injured in the attack that killed Sunday Times reporter Marie Colvin and French photographer Rémi Ochlik issued dramatic appeals to be evacuated from the besieged city of Homs, where they are trapped.

Edith Bouvier, a journalist with the French paper le Figaro, requested a ceasefire saying she needed urgent evacuation by ambulance because of the risk of suffering further blood loss. In a separate video photographer Paul Conroy, said he was being treated for three major leg wounds by opposition medics.

Intensive efforts are under way to evacuate three wounded reporters and repatriate the remains of two killed in the besieged Baba Amro neighbourhood of Homs, Lebanon’s Daily Star reports.

Britain’s Foreign Office said it was doing “all the necessary work” to retrieve the body of journalist Marie Colvin from Syria and to help a wounded British photographer Paul Conroy reach safety. France, meanwhile, was understood to be making efforts to send a team to Homs to recover the bodies, after French President Nicolas Sarkozy Wednesday accused Syria of “murder.”

Former UN secretary general Kofi Annan has been appointed as a joint UN and Arab League special envoy to Syria. Announcing the appointment Annan’s successor, Ban Ki-moon, and Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby said:

The Special Envoy will provide good offices aimed at bringing an end to all violence and human rights violations, and promoting a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis.

He will consult broadly and engage with all relevant interlocutors within and outside Syria in order to end the violence and the humanitarian crisis, and facilitate a peaceful Syrian-led and inclusive political solution that meets the democratic aspirations of the Syrian people through a comprehensive political dialogue between the Syrian Government and the whole spectrum of the Syrian opposition.

The need to build a united opposition will be the focus of intense discussions in Tunis, the New York Times reports. But it spells out the divisions and struggles within the Syrian National Council – the main opposition group.

The 310-member council remains Balkanized among different factions; arguments unspool endlessly over which groups deserve how many seats. The mostly secular, liberal representatives and those from the Islamist factions harbor mutual suspicions.

No one from Syria’s ruling Alawite community, the small religious sect of Mr. Assad, sits on the executive committee, despite repeated attempts to woo a few prominent dissidents. The fight over Kurdish seats remains unsettled even though Massoud Barzani, a leading Kurd in neighbouring Iraq, tried to mediate.

The council has also not reconciled with members of another opposition coalition, the Syrian National Coordination Committee, some of whom remain in Syria and who have generally taken a softer line about allowing Mr. Assad to shepherd a political transition.

Syria watcher Joshua Landis offers four reasons why the Assad regime is likely to survive at least until next year:

1. Assad remains strong militarily

2. The opposition is weak.

3. The international community is unlikely to intervene.

4. The economy is problematic.

Writing in the journal for Middle East policy he says: “Even as it unravels, the Assad regime may survive for some time, if no alternative forces organize to destroy and replace it. It may be able to live off the fat of the land for a while.”

Matthew Weaver
Brian Whitaker

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from Matthew Weaver, Brian Whitaker

via http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/middle-east-live/2012/feb/24/friends-of-syria-meeting-ceasefire-live

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