Syrians hold national flags during a protest against Syria's president Bashar Al-Assad in Kafranbel near Idlib, February 21 2012.
Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolai Mladenov is to attend the February 24 2012 meeting in Tunisia of the "Friends of Syria" group of representatives of about 70 countries opposed to the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
This will be the first meeting of the group, which plans to help rally greater international support for the uprising against Assad.
The "Friends of Syria" contact group - comprising Western and Arab nations openly seeking Assad's downfall - are planning to use the February 24 meeting in Tunisia to increase pressure on the Syrian government to halt the bloodshed, the Voice of America said on February 21.
Victoria Nuland, spokesperson for the United States state department, said on February 21 that the best outcome for Syria would be a political solution, but that if Assad refuses to yield to diplomatic pressure, "we may have to consider additional measures".
Earlier in February, Russia and China vetoed a Western- and Arab-backed effort to approve a UN Security Council resolution endorsing an Arab League plan for Assad to cede power. But Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby said on February 20 that he believes Moscow and Beijing may be shifting their positions on the Syrian crisis.
However, Alexander Lukashevich, a spokesperson for Russia’s foreign ministry, said on February 21 that Moscow’s representatives would not attend the conference because all parties involved in the conflict will not be present – a reference to the fact that the Syrian government would not be represented.
With the city of Homs under shelling for a third week, international pressure has failed to stop the Syrian military assault on the opposition, VOA reported.
Foreign ministers meeting in Mexico this week say Russia and China are partly to blame because they are blocking meaningful action to end the violence.
US secretary of state Hillary Clinton says there are a range of options under consideration, VOA said.
"We will strengthen our targeted sanctions, bring the international community together in condemnation of the actions of the Assad regime. We will increase our outreach to opposition both inside and outside of Syria," Clinton said.
On February 21, a group of independent United Nations experts condemned the arrest of at least 16 people in Syria, including prominent human rights figures, and called for the release of all those arbitrarily detained amid the ongoing Syrian government crackdown on that began nearly a year ago.
The UN News Centre reported that in a media statement issued in Geneva, the experts, who all report to the UN Human Rights Council, said that it appears the arrests and detention are directly linked to the activities of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression in the defence of human rights. They also voiced their concern that the individuals may be subjected to torture and ill treatment.
"The Syrian authorities should end all acts of harassment against human rights defenders and release all those arbitrarily arrested and detained," said the UN Special Rapporteurs on human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya; freedom of expression, Frank La Rue; torture, Juan Méndez; and the Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, El Hadji Malick Sow.