Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal left the meeting after saying in a speech that focusing on humanitarian aid to Syria was "not enough". (Al Arabiya)
February 24, 2012
The Saudi delegation withdrew from the "Friends of the Syrian People" meeting in Tunis over what it saw as the gathering’s "inactivity", Al Arabiya reported.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal left the meeting after saying in a speech that focusing on humanitarian aid to Syria was "not enough."
"There is no other means but transferring power either voluntarily or by force. Is it justice to offer aid and leave the Syrians to the killing machine? " he said.
Faisal said that the Syrian regime has lost legitimacy and turned into an occupation-like authority. "My country will not take part in an action that will not lead to the quick protection of the Syrians," he said.
Faisal said that giving weapons to the Syrian opposition facing a violent crackdown by government forces is an excellent idea, according to Reuters.
Asked if he thought arming the Syrian opposition was a good idea, the Saudi minister said: "I think it's an excellent idea."
Asked why, he said: "Because they have to protect themselves."
Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki told the inaugural session of the conference that the Arab League should send a peacekeeping force to help end President Bashar al-Assad’s crackdown.
"The current situation demands an Arab intervention in the framework of the League, an Arab force to keep peace and security, to accompany diplomatic efforts to convince Bashar to leave," he said.
Arab peacekeeping force
Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani backed calls at the conference for an Arab peacekeeping force in Syria.
"We want this meeting to be a start to stopping the violence in Syria and this cannot be done except after the formation of an international Arab force to maintain security, the opening of secure humanitarian corridors to bring aid to the Syrian people and the application of Arab League decisions," he told the meeting.
Arab League chief Nabil al-Araby called on the U.N. Security Council to issue an urgent resolution calling for a ceasefire in Syria.
"This conference should make practical moves and prioritize the issuance of an urgent Security Council resolution for a ceasefire," he told the opening session of the meeting in Tunis.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called on the world to find ways to deny the Syrian government "the means with which to perpetrate atrocities against the Syrian people."
"We must seek ways and means of enforcing an arms embargo upon the regime," Davutoglu told the meeting in the Tunisian capital.
He said a significant number of countries taking part in the meeting, including Turkey, had already put into effect such measures, but a broader effort was needed.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that Assad will "pay heavy cost" for ignoring international will.
She said the meeting was aimed at "increasing the pressure on the Assad regime, deepening its isolation, and sending a clear message: You will pay a heavy cost for ignoring the will of the international community and violating the human rights of your people."
Clinton said that the administration of Assad will have even more blood on its hands if it does not agree to an international demand to allow in urgent humanitarian relief.
Clinton announced that the U.S. will give $10 million to "scale up" Syria humanitarian efforts.
Evacuation of journalists
The governor of the Syrian city of Homs and the Red Cross are working to evacuate wounded foreign journalists stranded there by Syrian government attacks on opposition rebels, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said, addressing the meeting.
"I have asked the Syrian authorities for our ambassador to go there. This authorization was not accepted, but the governor of Homs is working with the Red Cross to make this (evacuation) happen as quickly as possible," Juppe said.
Protests by Assad supporters
Earlier, several hundred supporters of Syrian President Assad forced their way into the grounds of the hotel in Tunisia where Western and Arab leaders were preparing to meet to demand an end to Syria’s crackdown on opposition.
A Reuters reporter said the crowd arrived in buses at the Palace Hotel, in a suburb of Tunis, and then forced their way past perimeter gates. They were holding up portraits of Assad. They tried to push their way into the hotel building itself but were held back by a security cordon, the reporter said.
The protesters, chanting "No to the conference!" and "No meeting of the enemies of Arab nations," had attempted to force their way into a hotel on the outskirts of Tunis where the conference was taking place.
"This meeting is in the interest of America and the Zionists," shouted others.
"This congress aims to destroy Syria and we will not let Tunisia become the center from where plots against the Arab nation can be carried out," said one demonstrator.
More than 60 nations are gathering in Tunisia for the first Friends of the Syrian People conference, amid continuing violence in the flashpoint city of Homs and a growing global outcry over the deaths of thousands of civilians.
But the conference of Arab and Western foreign ministers will be marked by the absence of Russia and China -- highlighting the difficulty in building an international consensus on Syria.
Both countries refused to attend and have frustrated efforts to rein in Assad's regime, including by vetoing U.N. Security Council resolutions.
An early draft of the meeting’s declaration said it could call for the Syrian government "to implement an immediate ceasefire and to allow free and unimpeded access by the U.N.... and humanitarian agencies."
Before the meeting Clinton said, as she arrived in Tunis for the meeting, that she was looking for "concrete progress on three fronts: providing humanitarian relief, increasing pressure on the regime, and preparing for a democratic transition."
"We hope to see new pledges of emergency assistance for Syrians caught in Assad’s stranglehold, and international coordination and diplomatic pressure on Damascus to allow it to get to those who need it most," she told reporters in London.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe described the Syrian National Council (SNC) on Friday as "the legitimate representative" of the country’s opposition, as he arrived for an international meeting in Tunisia.
"We consider the SNC as the legitimate representative of the Syrian opposition... the pole around which the opposition must organize," he said, as he also "solemnly" urged Syria to allow for the evacuation of wounded journalists in Homs.