At a meeting in Tunis on Friday, the “Friends of Syria” — the United States, its Western allies and Arab nations — called on Syria to cease its attacks against Homs and other rebellious cities to allow humanitarian aid into the country, which has seen nearly a year of unrest. They also requested that the United Nations begin to prepare a peacekeeping force to send to Syria, despite the ongoing — indeed, the recent escalation — of violence. Officials also called on other nations to levy sanctions against President Bashar al-Assad and his top aides and pledged millions of dollars in aid in food and medicine.
But whether these threats will have any teeth remains to be seen. The shelling of Homs continued for the 21st straight day as the “Friends of Syria” met in Tunisia. No countries have spoken of using military force against the forces of Assad’s regime or of arming the Free Syrian Army, which is comprised of defectors from the Syrian army, though Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham have spoken of such. The call for the UN to establish a peacekeeping mission will ultimately require approval by the Security Council, two of whose members, Russia and China, have vetoed an earlier resolution calling for Assad to step down.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal also said he supports arming the Syrian opposition; however, the Saudi delegation walked out of the meeting in Tunis, declaring that there was “inactivity” among the members of the group. As the New York Times observes, while the Saudi minister “expressed frustration that the world was not doing enough [for Syria] … his own government has brutally repressed domestic dissent.”
In a break with its longtime patron, a leader of Hamas has expressed support for the Syrian opposition. The remarks by Hamas’s prime minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, are certainly significant as Assad has previously provided safe haven to leaders of Hamas and helped supply it with both weapons and cash against Israel.
No Relief For Homs
The International Committee of the Red Cross did report on Friday that a small group of people from the Bab Amr neighborhood of Homs had been evacuated to a hospital in another part of the city. Shelling resumed soon after they left. Two Western journalists, Edith Bouvier and Paul Conroy, who were wounded in an attack on Wednesday, were not among those evacuees; Bouvier was seriously wounded with a double fracture in one leg and is in urgent need of medical care that doctors in Bab Amr cannot provide. Update, 10:00 pm EST: The two wounded journalists have been evacuated out of Homs by the Red Cross, as have the bodies of Marie Colvin and Rémi Ochlak, who were killed on Wednesday.
At least 70 people were killed on Friday throughout Syria, according to activists. In the capital of Damascus, “hundreds” of plainclothes security forces were present throughout the main streets and squares and government buildings, in order to thwart protests of the size held a week ago.
On Friday, President Barack Obama said that “We are going to continue to keep the pressure up and look for every tool available to prevent the slaughter of innocents in Syria.” But as one resident of Bab Amr told the Guardian:
“Nothing has changed it is the same situation, the same siege. They keep killing and nobody cares about our lives. We feel a lot of anger.
“Is there any real action from the world? We don’t want statements. He [President Bashar al-Assad] will never stop. He will keep killing. We want them to protect our families, our children, our women. To provide food, to provide medicine. To remove this dictatorship from our head.”
The Bab Amr resident emphasized that civilians seek protection “of any kind.”
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Map of neighborhoods in Homs from Wikimedia Commons