As the “Friends of Syria” forum starts in Tunisia, world leaders have immediately focused on the subject of further measures against President Assad and his regime, while the topic of humanitarian aid has been left for closed-door discussions.
The European Union plans to freeze the assets of the Syrian Central Bank starting with February 27, says French Foreign Minister Alan Juppe as reported by Reuters.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calls on all nations to place travel bans, freeze assets of senior Syrian officials and boycott Syrian oil.
"You will pay a heavy cost for ignoring the will of the international community and violating the human rights of your people," Clinton said in remarks prepared for delivery at the meeting. Washington will allocate $10 million in aid for the Syrian people, she added.
The UK is set to recognise the oppositional Syrian National Council (SNC) as a "legitimate representative" of the Syrian people, declared British Foreign Secretary William Hague prior to the meeting.
But to some reason the SNC head has emerged from the meeting disappointed, saying the conference did not meet the ambitions of the Syrian people, according to Reuters.
Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim urges for Arab peacekeeping forces to be sent to Syria, which has been drowning in bloodshed since March 2011.
"There is a need to create an Arab force and open humanitarian corridors to provide security to the Syrian people," he said.
Turkey has appealed to the conference to enforce an arms embargo against Syria, calling to find ways to deny Damascus "the means with which to perpetrate atrocities against the Syrian people."
Conflicting reports have been filed on whether the Saudi delegation has walked out of the meeting. According to Al Arabiya, the head of the mission, before withdrawing from the conference, said mere focusing on humanitarian aid to Syria was "not enough" as it would leave the Syrians "to the killing machine." But later, the Guardian remarked that the ministers leaving the main conference room were not aware of such an incident.
Western leaders from over 70 nations, including the US, France, UK and Turkey, have converged on Tunis to meet with their Arab League counterparts with a view to cranking up the pressure on President Assad’s regime.
Hundreds of President Bashar al-Assad supporters, holding his portraits and waving Syrian and Tunisian flags, tried to storm the hotel building, where the conference is taking place. But a security cordon held them back.
Representatives from the Syrian opposition, also attending to the conference in Tunisia, have called on the gathering to arm the Free Syrian Army, an active anti-regime body on the Syrian soil, composed mostly of defectors.
"The Friends of Syria should not constrain individual countries from aiding the Syrian opposition by means of military advisers, training and provision of arms to defend themselves," said a member of the Istanbul-based Syrian National Council as quoted by Reuters.
London is so far opposed to that, according to William Hague. But the Saudi Foreign Minister declared this was "an excellent idea."
The SNC already shares plans for a post-war Syria. Its leader, Burhan Ghalioun, has proposed to form a transitional government – as well as a council to address the abuses of the Assad regime.
At the same time, another major Syrian oppositional group, the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change, appears to be boycotting the meeting in Tunisia. The group is concerned that the gathering is favoring the SNC and that militarisation of the conflict has not been ruled out, reports AFP.
The leader of the Popular Front for Change and Liberation, Qadri Jamil, has slammed the Friends of Syria conference as “another way to interfere with Syria from the outside.”
"This meeting doesn’t aim to deal with the Syrian crisis. It is a media campaign to cover up the failures Western countries, headed by the US, have suffered interfering with the Syrian crisis," he said as reported by Iran’s Press TV.
The Friends of Syria will call for the United Nations to begin planning peacekeeping mission in Syria to curtail the violence, reports the Associated Press.
The group is expected to put an ultimatum to Assad government – either broker a ceasefire to allow aid group to give help to civilians suffering in the conflict or face as-yet-unspecified additional punitive measures.
Both Russia and China have boycotted the summit on the basis that the Friends of Syria are biased in favor of regime change in Syria. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Aleksandr Lukashevich stated why Russia objects to the summit.
“The opposition is invited, the legal authorities are not. This means we have here what we had in Libya: a contact group was created. There is a feeling that it all aims at supporting ONE part in the country's internal conflict.”
Russia and China had previously blocked UN resolutions on Syria demanding the ouster of Assad, believing them to be skewed in the opposition’s favor. They remain the only countries still in dialogue with President Assad.
RT correspondent Maria Finoshina, currently in Damascus, interviewed Dr. Balsam Abu Bulla, a doctor of political science. He doubted the motives of the Friends of Syria summit and alluded to an ulterior motive on the part of Western powers.
“They want a political uprising here in Syria to make the country weak and then go to Iran and Hezbollah. This is a real plan on behalf of democracy and humanitarian aid human rights,” he told RT.
Dr. Chandra Muzaffar, president of the International Movement for a Just World, told RT the Friends of Syria summit have gathered “to devise more strategies to get rid of Bashar Assad” and said this was the reason why the Syrian President was not invited to the forum.
He also cited Friends of Syria’s demands for a ceasefire only on the side of government forces as a testament to the fact they are not interested in finding a peaceful solution to the conflict.
“If one is sincere about finding a solution to the Syrian crisis one would call for a ceasefire to be directed at parties, the Syrian government on one hand and the armed insurgency on the other hand. Both must abide by the ceasefire,” he said.
Jordan-based political analyst Professor Ibrahim Alloush is certain that the meeting is nothing more than a preamble for the military intervention in Syria.
“This meeting is supposed to enhance the legitimacy of the Syrian National Council and at the same time legitimize action from outside the boundaries of the UN Security Council, especially after the veto that was pressed by Russia and China,” he said.