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70 Foreign Nations Meet in Istanbul Over Syria

As regime forces continue to slaughter Syrians, foreign ministers debate if and how to arm rebel fighters against gov't troops in Syria.
By Chana Ya'ar
First Publish: 4/1/2012, 2:51 PM

US Secy Hillary Clinton, Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Derdogan
US Secy Hillary Clinton, Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Derdogan
Reuters

As Assad regime forces continue their slaughter of Syrians, international foreign ministers from 70 different nations gathered as the "Friends of Syria" in Istanbul to meet and debate whether, and if so, how to arm rebel fighters against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria. 

Among those meeting in Istanbul were U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and UK Foreign Secretary William Hague. Both called on the Assad regime to implement the peace plan arranged with the Syrian president by United Nations and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.

The former U.N. Secretary-General's proposed six-point plan included:

  • - withdrawal of heavy weapons and troops from populated areas
  • - unimpeded access for humanitarian aid workers
  • - release of prisoners jailed during the uprising
  • - freedom of movement and access for journalists
  • - a political process between the government and the opposition, and
  • - allowance of peaceful demonstrations.

The plan has the backing of the entire U.N. Security Council for the first time, including Russia and China.

Clinton, who met Saturday with Saudi Arabian officials in Riyadh, advocated for arming the opposition forces. Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal told reporters at a joint news conference with Clinton following the meeting that arming the rebels was a “duty” because the opposition “cannot defend itself except with weapons.”

Assad has yet to implement the peace agreement arranged by Annan despite his acquiescence a week ago, and Hague warned Sunday “There isn't an unlimited period of time for this, for the Kofi Annan process to work before many of the nations here want us to go back to the U.N. Security Council. Some [foreign ministers] will call for arming the opposition if there isn't progress made,” he told the BBC.

Opposition forces have said it appears he is playing for time in a manner similar to that he did when he ignored the agreement he signed with the Arab League six months ago.

Meanwhile, at least 25 people were killed Saturday in bombing by forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The killings took place in the southern province of Dera'a, in the central city of Homs, and in the northwestern province of Idlib, near the border with Turkey.

The U.N. estimates that nearly 9,000 people have been killed by government troops since the revolution began more than a year ago, ignited in March 2011 by the Arab Spring uprisings that swept the region.