US hints at possibility of arming Syrian rebels

Red Cross seeks ceasefires as latest assault on Homs leaves 100 dead.

By REUTERS
February 22, 2012 02:12
2 minute read.
Damaged armored vehicle seen after Homs clashes

Homs after bombardment 390. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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BEIRUT/GENEVA - Syrian government forces killed at least 100 people on Tuesday in assaults on villages and an artillery barrage in the restive city of Homs, activists said, and the Red Cross called for daily ceasefires to allow in urgently needed aid.

Washington, which is preparing for a "Friends of Syria" meeting of Western and Arab states opposing President Bashar Assad, declined to rule out eventually providing arms to rebels seeking to overthrow him.

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UN chief Ban Ki-moon said he was searching for a candidate to name as a humanitarian coordinator for Syria, whose role could evolve into seeking a political solution to the conflict.

Security forces killed at least 100 people in attacks on Homs and raids on villages and towns in the province of Idlib near Turkey, the Local Coordination Committees said.

Ten children and three women were among the dead, the opposition activists' organization, which documents what it describes as killings and human rights abuses by security forces, said in a statement.

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In Damascus, security forces opened fire on demonstrators overnight, wounding at least four, activists said. Violence has hit the capital over the past week, undermining Assad's assertion that the 11-month-old uprising against his rule is limited to the provinces and the work of saboteurs.

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Activist accounts of the violence could not be confirmed. The government bars most foreign journalists from Syria.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it had asked authorities and rebels to agree daily ceasefires so life-saving aid can reach civilians in hard-hit areas including Homs.

"It 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.

Western and Arab powers that are openly seeking Assad's downfall are preparing for the inaugural meeting of a "Friends of Syria" contact group in Tunisia on Friday.

Asked about the prospect of arming the rebels, US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said: "We don't believe that it makes sense to contribute now to the further militarization of Syria."

But she added: "That said... if we can't get Assad to yield to the pressure that we are all bringing to bear, we may have to consider additional measures."

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