"Friends of Syria' seek humanitarian access in days

Reuters News
Posted: Feb 23, 2012 7:58 AM
"Friends of Syria' seek humanitarian access in days

LONDON (Reuters) - A gathering of Western and Arab powers plans to challenge Syrian President Bashar al-Assad Friday to provide humanitarian access within days to civilians under assault by his forces, U.S. officials told reporters.

The officials, speaking before a "Friends of Syria" meeting expected to gather more than 70 nations and international groups in Tunis Friday, did not specify specific consequences if the Syrian authorities failed to provide such access.

"One of the things you are going to see coming out of the meeting tomorrow are concrete proposals on how we, the international community, plan to support humanitarian organizations...within days, meaning that the challenge is on the Syrian regime to respond to this," said one senior U.S. official who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity.

The Syrian military pounded rebel-held Sunni Muslim districts of Homs city for the 20th day Thursday, despite international protest over the previous day's death toll of more than 80, including two Western journalists, activists said.

Asked if the group's call would amount to an ultimatum, a second U.S. official told reporters: "It is a challenge."

The officials said Friday's meeting would focus on three things: increasing humanitarian access, supporting the Syrian National Council opposition group in devising a transition plan, and coordinating sanctions to increase pressure on Assad.

"The point of this is to create increasing pressure on him as a result of the unity, as a result of a concrete proposal coming forward, and to put him in a position where the international community is demanding that he do the right thing," the second official said when asked about consequences.

(Reporting By Arshad Mohammed)