- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 23, 2012

Western and Arab officials on Friday will demand Syrian President Bashar Assad agree to a cease-fire and allow food and medical aid into his country, as Syria’s main opposition group says foreign military intervention may be necessary to enforce “humanitarian corridors.”

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who will lead the U.S. delegation to the Friends of Syria meeting in Tunisia, will focus on humanitarian aid, a transition plan and sanctions, a senior State Department official told reporters.

The meeting in the Tunisian capital, Tunis, is expected to produce “concrete proposals” on how the international community plans to “support humanitarian organizations on the ground within days; meaning that the challenge is on the Syrian regime to respond to this,” the official added in a background briefing.

The Syrian National Council, the main opposition group, which will be represented at the Tunis meeting, will propose humanitarian corridors be established so that desperately needed aid can be provided to civilians under heavy bombardment by the regime’s forces in several cities, especially the flash-point town of Homs.

On Thursday evening, the United Nations and the Arab League announced former U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan as their joint envoy to Syria. They said Mr. Annan would work on ending “all violence and human-rights violations, and promoting a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis.”

More than 40 people were killed in Syria on Thursday, according to opposition sources.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has said it can only provide aid after government and opposition forces agree to a cease-fire in Mr. Assad’s bloody 11-month-old crackdown on an anti-government uprising. A Syrian National Council official said any humanitarian aid would require international military protection.

“No one wanted military intervention, but it seems we have two choices: complete destruction and death of the residents in Homs, or humanitarian intervention that would provide a protected corridor for international relief agencies to deliver food and medicine,” said Ausama Monajed, adviser to Syrian National Council President Burhan Ghalioun.

“Humanitarian corridors require international protection and should be forced on the Assad regime by world powers,” Mr. Monajed said. “We welcome suggestions of other solutions, but every delay is costing lives.”

The United States and its European allies publicly oppose military intervention. Dr. Marie-Pierre Allie, president of Doctors Without Borders, an international humanitarian organization, warned that creating humanitarian corridors would “militarize medical aid and make it a target.”

Russia and China plan to boycott the meeting in Tunis and on Thursday reiterated opposition to foreign interference in Syria. Both nations vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution earlier this month that sought to press the Assad regime to end its brutal crackdown, which has claimed more than 5,400 lives.

Russia maintains close ties with Mr. Assad, and Moscow’s support is vital to the success of any humanitarian effort in Syria.

“The negotiations over humanitarian aid and corridors should be with the Russians, since the Russians are acting as representatives of the Syrian regime,” said Dr. Mousab Azzawi, a London-based chairman of the Syrian Network for Human Rights.

Meanwhile, a U.N.-appointed panel found that top Syrian civilian and military officials bear responsibility for crimes against humanity and human rights violations.

The panel has given Navi Pillay, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, a sealed envelope containing the names of those officials, which it said might assist “future credible investigations by competent authorities.”

It also identified opposition Free Syrian Army groups that have committed abuses.

One of the goals of the meeting in Tunis is to support and take stock of the Syrian opposition.

Syrian National Council representatives will present their group’s vision, recommendations and transition plan.

All participants in the conference support the Arab League transition plan, which calls on Mr. Assad to hand over power to his vice president and allow the creation of a unity government.

“But it’s incumbent upon the Syrian National Council to talk about how they would translate that transition plan into action on the ground and for them to articulate it in a compelling way that’s comprehensible, understandable to Syrians inside and out,” the senior State Department official said.

In Homs, a hotbed of the uprising, neighborhoods in the Old City have been devastated.

Residents, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear for their safety, described a city on the brink of a humanitarian crisis.

The city has been heavily shelled since Feb. 4. Its residents face acute shortages of water, electricity and food. Fuel supplies are also running low as nighttime temperatures drop below freezing.Makeshift field hospitals have few medical supplies and little blood for transfusions.

Meanwhile, Edith Bouvier, a French journalist who was injured in an attack by the regime’s forces in Homs on Wednesday, said in a video shared by Syrian activists that she needed to be evacuated for an emergency operation on her leg.

Two journalists, American Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik, were killed in the attack.

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