‘Friends of Syria’ recognize SNC as ‘a legitimate representative’ of Syrians

Syrian National Council (SNC) President Burhan Ghalioun speaks during a news conference at the "Friends of Syria" conference in Istanbul April 1, 2012. (Reuters)

The “Friends of Syria” on Sunday recognized the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) as a legitimate representative of all Syrians, and “noted” it as the main opposition interlocutor with the international community - wording that fell short of full recognition of a group hampered by chronic disunity.

The group made no mention of supporting or arming the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA), as advocated by some Gulf Arab states, but said it would “continue to work on additional appropriate measures with a view to the protection of the Syrian people.”

 We will not let the Syrian regime misuse another opportunity 
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu

In a final communiqué, the 83-nation group said President Bashar al-Assad did not have an open-ended opportunity to meet his commitments to Kofi Annan, who is acting for the United Nations and Arab League.

“The regime will be judged by its deeds rather than its promises,” the communiqué said. Security Council members China and Russia and Syria’s ally Iran were among countries that stayed away from the conference in Istanbul.

Assad has accepted, but not yet implemented, Annan’s six-point peace plan, which calls for the military to cease fire, withdraw from towns and cities, and allow humanitarian access.

“We will not let the Syrian regime misuse another opportunity, which is the last chance for the situation in Syria,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told a news conference after the meeting he hosted.

Gulf states are likely to interpret the phrase as a license to fund, if not arm, the FSA, while the United States and others will see it as allowing supplies of non-lethal equipment to the loosely organized armed opposition to Assad.

Signs of direct intervention

Gulf states have pledged to provide $100 million dollars to pay for the salaries of opposition fighters for three months, According to a New York Times report, citing Molham al-Drobi, a member of the Syrian National Council.

Drobi told the Times about $500,000 was already sent to fighters inside Syria last week through "a mechanism that I cannot disclose now.”

The money is meant to encourage those who are still fighting for President Assad to defect and join the opposition.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the conference her government was supplying “communications equipment that will help activists organize, evade attacks by the regime and connect to the outside world” and was “discussing with our international partners how best to expand this support.”

Clinton berated Assad for not acting on Annan’s peace plan. “Nearly a week has gone by, and we have to conclude that the regime is adding to its long list of broken promises,” she said.

“There is no more time for excuses or delays ... This is a moment of truth,” Clinton told a news conference later.

Western powers have been wary of military intervention in Syria, but Davutoglu sounded an alarm bell, comparing the situation there to the plight of Bosnia in the 1990s.

“In the case of Bosnia, the international community was too slow ... therefore we lost many people,” he said. “In the case of Syria ... we have to act without delay.”

Chris Phillips, a Middle East expert at the University of London, said the Istanbul meeting had produced little.

“It’s another damp squib from the international community, reflecting the fact that their hands are tied,” he said, citing divisions over arming the rebels between the West and Arab League hawks such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

“They have a very limited amount of leverage that they can place on the Assad regime,” Phillips said, noting that the group’s endorsement of Annan’s plan had effectively dropped previous Arab and Western demands for Assad’s removal.

Western and Arab sanctions on Syria have failed so far to soften the government’s crackdown on its opponents.

Ahead of the gathering, Assad’s regime declared victory over rebels and again voiced support for Annan’s plan, but kept up its shelling of rebel positions and said it had no plans to immediately withdraw troops.

At least 73 people were killed Sunday, among them 15 members of the security forces who died in firefights across the country, the Sham News Network reported.

Assad’s deadly crackdown on opponents has left more than 9,000 people dead since the uprising began in March last year, according to the UN.

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