02/25/2012, 00.00
SYRIA
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"Friends of Syria" arm rebels and sanction Assad

The opposition confirms receiving arms from Western countries. Saudi Arabia decides to arm the rebels and overthrow Assad. France, Great Britain, the United States are pushing for a resolution of the UN Security Council. Hamas sides with the opposition, for an "Islamic Syria". Damascus declares that the Tunis meeting supports "terrorism". Tomorrow the referendum for new constitution.

Tunis (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The "Friends of Syria" group that gathered nearly 60 nations in a hotel in Tunis, has publicly agreed to step up sanctions against the regime of Bashar Assad, demanding "an immediate end to violence" and the opening of humanitarian channels. But Saudi Arabia and Qatar have also decided on military support for the opposition, already a reality albeit in a hidden way.

In a final statement, the group decided to step up sanctions against Damascus such as "a ban on travel by members of the regime, freezing their assets, a block Syrian purchases of hydrocarbons, reduction of diplomatic ties with the Syrian regime. " The group also supports the Arab League's proposal for the deployment of an Arab force with UN blue helmets "to keep the peace" and recognizes the Syrian National Council (NSC) as the "legitimate representative of the Syrians who seek a peaceful democratic change", but calls on it to increase its representativeness by including other elements of Syrian society.

The declaration also states that the group wants to provide "effective support" to the opposition, but without any further explanation of what that support is.

In the discussion, Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi chief diplomat, said the "best" idea is to "arm the opposition" and stressed that the only solution to the Syrian crisis is to remove "willingly or by force " President Bashar Assad. Qatar instead wants "peace" imposed by force.

Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki, supports the idea of UN peacekeepers and diplomatic efforts to "convince" Assad to step down from power, guaranteeing him and his family "judicial immunity" and a refuge in Russia.

Some members of the Syrian opposition, however, have already admitted that the Free Syrian Army (FSA), composed of military deserters, receives weapons from neighbouring countries or buys them on the black market. Western countries are also involved in trade, content to turn a blind eye on smuggling. So far the FSA has been able to take possession of small arms, communication equipment and night vision goggles. Anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons are urgently needed, as well as military advisers to coordinate the rebels.

Western countries, including France, Britain and the United States, while condemning the violence of the regime in Damascus, are of the opinion that every move must be made following the UN Security Council.

The head of the NSC, Burhan Ghalioun, has shown himself dissatisfied with the results of the meeting. He had hoped for a decision in favour of military intervention or overt support for FSA troops by the international community.

Instead that open support has come from Hamas. Yesterday, from Cairo, Hamas leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, welcomed the Syrian people's struggle "for democracy". Until recently, Hamas has seen Damascus as their protector. Yesterday its adherents in Cairo shouted: "Neither Iran, nor Hezbollah, Islamic Syria. Assad, butcher, go away."

The emphasis on "Islamic Syria" and the strong support of Saudi Arabia show that the tensions in Syria, born as an "Arab spring", is turning into a war for Sunni supremacy against the Shiite Iran.

According to experts, this is one of the reasons why opposition representatives of the Syrian National Coordination Body did not attend the meeting in Tunis.

In an attempt to broaden support for the NSC, Ghalioun has promised that "the new Syria will not be owned by any sect, denomination or group, but will be home to all citizens the same level." It has sought the support of Kurdish and Christian minorities, guaranteeing them that their rights will be respected.

Damascus branded the Tunis meeting as a "meeting of the enemies of Syria", of "supporters of terrorism" and the "friends of America and Israel."

Tomorrow in Syria a referendum on the new constitution is due to be held, which reduces the power of the Baath Party and the president of the republic. Given the instability in many regions of the country, it is difficult to predict a peaceful poll. (PD)

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