Russia boycotts, China mulls Syria meeting
Militants with the Free Syrian Army look at the city of Saraqib from the rooftop of a building in the northwestern city of Idlib, on Feb 21.Russia said yesterday it would boycott an international meeting on Syria, as Syrian forces killed 21 people and wounded some 340 when they unleashed a heavy artillery barrage on a rebel-held district of Homs, activists said.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said Friday’s Friends of Syria meeting in Tunis was called “for the purpose of supporting one side against another in an internal conflict.” It said in a statement, “We cannot accept the offer to attend this meeting.”
The same day, China refused to commit to attend the Tunis meeting.
The Friends of Syria group will meet for the first time Feb. 24 after being created in response to a joint veto by China and Russia of a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning a bloody crackdown on protests in Syria.
The group is backed by members of the European Union as well as some Arab nations and the United States. “China has received the relevant invitation,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a regular briefing. “The Chinese side is currently researching the function, mechanism and other aspects of the meeting.”
Representatives from the Syrian National Council (SNC) and other opposition groups will be at the meeting, along with Arab and Western diplomats, Tunisian Foreign Minister Rafik Abdessalem said Feb. 20. Abdessalem also said yesterday that the Tunis meeting aims to give a united and strong message to the Syrian regime. Top Republican U.S. Senator John McCain called Feb. 20 for Syria’s opposition to be given weapons to help “defend themselves” against al-Assad’s forces, while ruling out direct U.S. aid. The EU will likely adopt fresh sanctions against the Syrian government in the coming week, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Feb. 20.
Red Cross calls for ceasefire
As the violence continued in the country, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called on Syrian authorities and rebels yesterday to agree immediately on a daily ceasefire of at least two hours to allow life-saving aid to reach civilians in hard-hit areas including Homs.
The ceasefire “should last at least two hours every day, so that ICRC staff and Syrian Arab Red Crescent volunteers have enough time to deliver aid and evacuate the wounded and the sick,” ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger said in a statement.
The London-based Syrian Network for Human Rights said at least 250 shells and rockets had hit Baba Amro since the morning and Syrian Air Force planes were flying reconnaissance missions.
In Damascus, security forces opened fire on demonstrators overnight, wounding at least four, activists said. Activists said government forces backed by amour and under the control of Alawite officers, from the same minority sect as Assad, have been closing in on Baba Amro, a Sunni Muslim neighborhood, since the offensive on Homs began on Feb 3. Crowds rallied in the capital Damascus the night of Feb. 20 and at least four people were wounded when security forces opened fire, activists said. Meanwhile, two Iranian naval ships returned from Syria through the Suez Canal yesterday, a Suez Canal source said. The ships entered the canal from the Mediterranean Sea early in the morning, heading south toward the Red Sea, and were expected to leave the canal yesterday afternoon, the source said.
Compiled from AFP, Reuters and AA stories by the Daily News staff.