PARIS: The United States will lead calls at talks in Paris for a tough new UN sanctions regime to be imposed on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his inner circle, US officials said Thursday.
Speaking as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton flew to Paris for Friday’s Friends of Syria meeting, one official said it was time “to put this all together under a Security Council resolution that increases the pressure on Assad, including having real consequences” such as economic sanctions.
“We, and we believe most of the countries represented in Paris, think that has to include Chapter 7 economic sanctions on Assad,” the official said aboard Clinton’s plane and asking to remain anonymous, referring to a clause within the UN charter.
“Many of the countries in Paris already have those sanctions but globalising them will be very important. That is the argument that we will continue to make to Russia and China.”
The aim would be to keep up momentum, building on talks in Geneva last weekend and the Cairo and Paris talks, with the UN Security Council set to take up the sanctions issue as soon as next week.
“There’s already a lot of work being done in New York in terms of thinking through what this resolution might look like,” said another US official.
“The idea is to… go right away to New York there’s no wait-time. How long it will take for this all to be agreed, it’s hard to anticipate. But the work is already underway and the focus will be in New York next week as soon as we finish in Paris basically.”
Friday’s Friends of Syria meeting will bring together more than 80 nations, as well as non-governmental organizations and representatives of the Syrian opposition.
The US officials hailed a blueprint drawn up earlier this week by the Syrian opposition in talks held under the auspices of the Arab League in Cairo, which set out a clear plan for transition to a post-Assad era in Syria.
It also drew up the basis for a future constitution and governing system for the Arab nation, which has been ruled for decades by the Assad family and the Baath party.
According to the document, as soon as Assad steps down a new caretaker government would be installed to start the transtition process.
It would aim to bring together a “wide national conference” in Damascus to include all political powers and across all spectrums of society.
This conference would then set up a temporary legislative body to work on a new constitution and hold parliamentary elections within a year. Following that election, the new government would have to put the constitution to a referendum within six months.
“It’s a very explicit, almost a bill of rights in terms of each group. They all get to have their rights protected and their place in Syrian society without any split in the country, in the society, in the territory,” said the second US official.
The document also makes it clear that those people with “blood on their hands” would have no role in the next governments, although the US official said it would be up to the Syrian people to make that determination.
“It is not something that we would define or we would dictate,” the official said.
PARIS: The United States will lead calls at talks in Paris for a tough new UN sanctions regime to be imposed on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his inner circle, US officials said Thursday.
By Anne Applebaum,
“We are not pretending that the human rights situation in Syria is perfect. . . . We are aware that there is a regression in the quality of services usually provided by the government to the population by the regions facing violence.”
— Fayssal al-Hamwi, Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations,in Geneva on Feb. 28
On Sunday, Syrians “voted” in a constitutional referendum that reflected “ citizens’ keenness on moving forward with the reform process ,” in the words of the government’s news agency. On the same day, 17 people were killed in Homs by the government’s military forces, while the International Red Cross tried, and failed, to negotiate safe passage for the wounded out of the city. The Syrian regime now has two faces: the pseudo-democratic one it turns to the outside world, and the vicious one it turns on its own people.
Although that contrast is clear, a Western military coalition of the willing isn’t going to emerge quickly on behalf of Syria, as it did for Libya. Syria’s ethnic divisions resemble those in Iraq, its ruling clique is sustained by Iran, its opposition is chaotic and some of its population is so scared of what might come next that they may be inclined to support the regime. The Syrian army has better weapons than the Libyan army (which itself collapsed only in the nick of time, just before NATO’s ammunition ran out), and Western publics are war-weary. But before we throw up our hands and let the Saudis send jihadists to “help” the Syrian rebels (like they once “helped” the Afghan mujaheddin), we have several more cards to play.
One involves taking Syria’s human rights rhetoric seriously — and turning it against the regime. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the United Nations and others have collected, compiled and published evidence of the regime’s abuses, including the names and positions of Syrian officers who ordered soldiers to fire on unarmed demonstrators; accounts of torture and arbitrary detention; descriptions of rape, abuse and murder of children; and evidence of the mass slaughter of regime opponents over many years.
It’s time to refer this material to the United Nations, the Arab League, the International Criminal Court (not a body I like, but since it exists we should use it); to hand it publicly to Syrian officials; to read it in Arabic on the radio; to use it in statements and at news conferences. A single speech by the American president or the British prime minister that named the criminal Syrian army officers could have an enormous impact, once it has been beamed back into Syria via radio, satellite TV, the Internet and word of mouth.
Western leaders have refrained from this kind of language because, as Hillary Clinton put it this week, using labels like “war criminal” to describe Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, can “limit options to persuade leaders to step down from power.” She is right — which is why rhetoric aimed at delegitimizing the regime should be accompanied by immediate and strenuous efforts to not only unify the opposition but also to get its disparate members talking about the post-Assad future. Syrian rebels need to start talking about transitional justice: how, exactly, former regime allies will be treated, how real criminals will be distinguished from mere collaborators, how victims will be compensated and how the minority rule of a dictatorial clan can be ended without bloodshed.
This isn’t an impossible dream: South Africa managed to avoid civil war, in an analogous (though hardly identical) situation. Violence there was avoided in part because the outgoing minority participated in the transition. If some of the Alawite elite can be persuaded to do the same, Syria stands a chance of avoiding civil war. There isn’t anybody to talk to in Assad’s immediate circle; all have blood on their hands. But if the Syrian rebels can reassure others in Damascus, Alawites as well as Christians, that they won’t become the targets of a campaign of revenge, then they stand a better chance of persuading more people to switch sides. The crucial moment of the revolution — when the regime’s supporters begin to sympathize with their opponents — may be fast approaching.
One way or another, this conflict will end. Assad will fall — or he will remain in power thanks to a bloodbath, followed by another era of sullen repression. Either way, one of the best things the West can do is help Syrian rebels and the Syrian diaspora think about what might come next. It seems ridiculous to focus on the future in the middle of a crisis. But in this case, that might be the only way the crisis can be resolved.
Anne Applebaum is director of political studies at the London-based Legatum Institute and writes a monthly column for The Post. Her e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tuesday, 28 February 2012
By Al Arabiya with Agencies
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad sent units of an elite armored division into Homs on Tuesday as rebel-held districts came under the heaviest bombardment of a three-week-old offensive, opposition sources in the city said. Syrian forces killed as many as 138 people on Monday, Al Arabiya reported citing activists.
Opposition sources told Reuters that tanks and troops of the Fourth Division, which is commanded by Assad’s brother Maher moved overnight into main streets around the besieged southern area of Baba Amro. The tanks had “Fourth Division Monsters” painted on them, they said.
There was no independent confirmation of the deployment. Syrian authorities tightly restrict media access to the country.
The outside world has proved powerless to halt the killing in Syria, where repression of initially peaceful protests has spawned an armed insurrection by army deserters and others.
The Syrian Arab Red Crescent did manage to enter the besieged Baba Amro district of Homs and evacuate three people on Monday, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said. Foreign reporters trapped in the area were not evacuated and the bodies of two journalists killed there had not been recovered, it said, according to Reuters.
President Bashar al-Assad’s government announced that voters had overwhelmingly approved a new constitution in a referendum derided as a sham by his critics at home and abroad.
While foreign powers argued over whether to arm the rebels, the Syrian Interior Ministry on Monday said the reformed constitution, which could keep Assad in power until 2028, had received 89.4 percent approval from more than 8 million voters.
Syrian dissidents and Western leaders dismissed as a farce Sunday’s vote, conducted in the midst of the country’s bloodiest turmoil in decades, although Assad says the new constitution will lead to multi-party elections within three months.
Officials put national voter turnout at close to 60 percent, but diplomats who toured polling stations in Damascus saw only a handful of voters at each location.
Assad says he is fighting foreign-backed “armed terrorist groups” and his main allies — Russia, China and Iran — fiercely oppose any outside intervention intended to add him to the list of Arab autocrats unseated by popular revolts in the past year.
But Qatar joined Saudi Arabia in advocating arming the Syrian rebels, given that Russia and China have twice used their vetoes to block any action by the U.N. Security Council.
“I think we should do whatever is necessary to help them, including giving them weapons to defend themselves,” Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani said in Oslo.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe criticized the U.N. Security Council’s “impotence” on Syria, shown by the Russian and Chinese vetoes, and accused the Syrian authorities of “massacres” and “odious crimes.”
In a speech to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Juppe said the time was ripe for referring Syria to the International Criminal Court and warned Assad he would be brought to justice.
“The day will come when the Syrian civilian and military authorities, first among them President Assad himself, must respond before justice for their acts. In the face of such crimes, there can be no impunity,” Juppe told the 47-member Geneva forum, which will hold an emergency debate on Syria on Tuesday.
Shells and rockets crashed into districts of Homs that have already endured weeks of bombardment as Assad’s forces try to stamp out an almost year-long revolt against his 11-year rule.
#Syria: We would like to use this opportunity to shame Addounia TV aka Syrian State TV with the kind of desperate tactics they use for propaganda.
This was by far the stupidest act this pro-Assad channel has ever made.
Reporter asks name of the interviewee. He tells her his name. Reporter THEN tells him “We won’t ask you on what you have voted” - fine.
Later, she then asks him “isn’t the referendum a good step in the direction of the road to democracy for a good political life that is demanded by the Syrian people?”. He answers, “Yes” and smiles awkwardly at her. A big UH-OH moment here as you can see.
The reporter further went on to ask whether he read the constitution. The man replies “yes” and said it is good.
No comment on the stupidity of pro-Assad supporters. They try not to be biased and they slam other channels for it but they have failed even with the simplest act of voting.
Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma vote (Reuters)
Mon, 27 Feb 2012 5:55a.m.
By Zeina Karam and Bassem Mroue
Syria’s authoritarian regime held a referendum on a new constitution Sunday, a gesture by embattled President Bashar Assad to placate those seeking his ouster. But the opposition deemed it an empty gesture and the West immediately dismissed the vote as a “sham”.
Even as some cast ballots for what the government has tried to portray as reform, the military kept up shelling of the opposition stronghold of Homs, which has been under attack for more than three weeks after rebels took control of some neighbourhoods there. Activists and residents report that hundreds have been killed in Homs in the past few weeks, including two Western journalists.
The Red Cross spokesman said the humanitarian group had been unable to enter the besieged Homs neighbourhood of Baba Amr since Friday, describing the humanitarian needs there as “very urgent”.
Activist groups said at least 29 people were killed on Sunday, mostly in Homs. At least 89 were reported killed on Saturday alone, one day before the referendum. Activists estimate close to 7,500 people have been killed in the 11 months since the Assad regime’s brutal crackdown on dissent began.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called Sunday’s vote “a cynical ploy”.
“It’s a phony referendum, and it is going to be used by Assad to justify what he’s doing to other Syrian citizens,” she said in an interview with CBS News in Rabat, Morocco.
Speaking to reporters in Rabat, Clinton called on Syrians in business and the military who still support Assad to turn against him.
“The longer you support the regime’s campaign of violence against your brothers and sisters, the more it will stain your honour,” she said. “If you refuse, however, to prop up the regime or take part in attacks … your countrymen and women will hail you as heroes.”
Other countries also lambasted the vote.
“The referendum in Syria is nothing more than a farce,” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said. “Sham votes cannot be a contribution to a resolution of the crisis. Assad must finally end the violence and clear the way for a political transition.”
US, European and Arab officials met Friday at a major international conference on the Syrian crisis in Tunisia, trying to forge a unified strategy to push Assad from power. They began planning a civilian peacekeeping mission to deploy after the regime falls.
“It is time for that regime to move on,” President Barack Obama said Friday of Assad’s rule.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported intense clashes between troops and army defectors in the villages of Dael and Hirak in the province of Daraa, where the uprising started. The group also said explosions were heard in the village of Khirbet Ghazaleh and Naima as well as the provincial capital, Daraa.
The Observatory and other activist groups reported violence in several areas including Idlib, Homs and the eastern province of Deir el-Zour.
The two main umbrella opposition groups, the Syrian National Council and the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria, have called for a boycott. Other groups have called for a general strike.
“I am boycotting the vote,” Syria-based activist Mustafa Osso told The Associated Press by phone. He added that previous “reforms” have made little difference. Assad’s government revoked the country’s official state of emergency in April, but the crackdown on dissent has only intensified.
The referendum on the new constitution allows at least in theory for opening the country’s political system. It would create a multiparty system in Syria, which has been ruled by the Baath party since it took power in a coup in 1963. Assad’s father, Hafez, took power in another coup in 1970.
It also imposes a limit of two seven-year terms on the president, though Syrian legal expert Omran Zoubi said Assad’s time in office so far wouldn’t count. That means he could serve two more terms after his current one ends 2014, keeping him in office until 2028.
Such changes would be unthinkable a year ago, but since Assad’s security forces have killed thousands in their effort to end the uprising, most opposition groups say they’ll accept nothing short of his ouster.
In the capital Damascus, a regime stronghold where many in the business class and religious minorities support Assad, the Information Ministry took foreign reporters to visit polling stations. Many said they were eager to vote.
“This is a good constitution. It calls for party pluralism and the president can only hold the post for two terms. These did not exist in the past,” said civil servant Mohammed Diab, 40, who waited with four others to vote in the posh Abu Rummaneh neighborhood.
Jaafar Naami, 28, who works for a private insurance company, said: “I am here to say yes for the new constitution. This is not the time to say no. People should unite.”
The state news agency SANA said Assad and his wife, Asma, voted at the capital’s state broadcasting headquarters.
Fewer voters turned out in the areas of Rukneddine and Barzeh, where anti-government protesters have recently demonstrated.
In Barzeh, about 20 percent of shops were closed, apparently in compliance with the calls for a strike. Turnout was very low at a polling station in the area, with individuals trickling in to vote every few minutes.
One man said he had come to vote at a centre away from the district’s centre, where he said there was “pressure not to vote … intimidation and calls for public disobedience”. He did not give his name for fear of reprisal.
In Rukneddine, turnout in the morning was low, but picked up in the afternoon. Still, people cast ballots as they arrived with no need to stand in line.
A Syrian-American voter who only gave her first name, Diana, said after voting yes: “My friends attacked me for voting. They said, ‘Don’t you see people are dying?’ But for me, voting is my right. The president is on the right track. When someone hits you, you have to hit back.” She added: “Syria is under attack.”
Another woman refused to talk to the AP because it is an American agency. She attacked Obama over his call Friday for Assad’s regime to “move on”.
“Tell Obama I hope he dies, like he is killing Syrian people,” she said.
One woman emerged from the station and said she voted “no” without elaborating, and walked away quickly.
Posters around the capital Damascus urged people to cast ballots. “Don’t turn your back on voting,” one said.
Another - showing the red, black and white Syrian flag - touted the new constitution. “Syria’s constitution: Freedom of belief,” it said, referring to clauses protecting religious minorities.
Turnout is expected to be minimal in opposition strongholds such as Homs, the northwestern province Idlib and the southern region of Daraa where armed rebels frequently clash with security forces.
A spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, Hicham Hassan, said the group’s local chapter had not been able to reach the embattled Homs neighbourhood of Baba Amr since Friday, when it evacuated 27 people.
“Needs are very urgent,” he said. “It is absolutely crucial that we are able to enter in order to evacuate people and to bring in vital assistance.”
The repercussions of the Syrian conflict are rapidly spilling over borders. More than 80,000 Syrian refugees have sought refuge in neighbouring Jordan, officials there have said.
Turkey and Lebanon also are harbouring many Syrian refugees.
The free #Syria’ns are so full of humour today :D Large number of voters “flock” to take part in the referendum
BOYNUYOGUN, Turkey — An anti-Syrian government activist described weeks he spent in the regime’s torture chambers, saying he sometimes wished death would come and relieve him of the overwhelming pain.
“You hear the voices,” Yousef Dandash, a 25-year-old merchant from Jisr al-Shughour in Syria’s northern Idlib, told NBC News’ Richard Engel on Saturday. “You hear the sounds of men crying, real men shouting from the depth of their hearts. You … pray that God takes you before you go back to the torture.”
Speaking at a refugee camp on the Turkish border with Syria, Dandash said he was detained for six weeks in March after tearing up a picture of President Bashar Assad in public.
“They took me to solitary confinement … with no access to a toilet,” he said. “Every day there was beating and torture (and) electricity.”
He showed NBC News scars that he said were caused by prolonged bouts of torture.
His captors then took him to the capital Damascus, where he was put in a virtual underground city, Dandash said.
“There the torture and the beating started. I was blindfolded all the time and my hands tied behind my back,” he said.
Dandash managed to flee to Turkey after security forces took him back to a detention center in his town, where a judge decided to release him until his trial. His brother Ammar, who was a soldier, deserted and came with him across the border.
The growing numbers of Syrians fleeing to the country’s neighbors attest to the growing violence in Syria where Assad is trying to suppress a months-long rebellion. Some 10,000 refugees are now registered in tented refugee camps and the number is rising steadily.
On Sunday, voting was under way in the referendum on a new constitution in some parts of the country. Assad has said the poll will lead to a multi-party parliamentary election in three months, but his opponents see the vote as a joke given Syria’s turmoil.
The Syrian government, backed by Russia, China and Iran, and undeterred by Western and Arab pressure to halt the carnage, maintains it is fighting foreign-backed “armed terrorist groups.”
Unwilling to intervene militarily and unable to get the U.N. Security Council to act amid Russian and Chinese opposition, Western powers have imposed their own sanctions on Syria and backed an Arab League call for Assad to step down.
Dandash called the international stance on his country “weak” and “impotent” and called for the world to arm anti-Assad forces, not send humanitarian aid.
“We do not want food and water,” he said. “We need rifles and ammunition.”
#Syria: Yet another video parody of the referendum. People get beaten if they voted no instead of yes :P
Very heavy shelling on Baba Amr during the crap referendum youtube.com/watch?v=yKSt2d…— Arab Spring (@ArabSpringFF) February 26, 2012
#Syria: Another video parody of people lining up at the polling station to vote for the Referendum. Check out the guy with the shoe :)
(CNN) — In what the government touts as a move toward reform, Syria’s constitutional referendum kicked off Sunday to widespread skepticism that the regime would stop slaughtering civilians.
The referendum on a draft constitution began in polling centers across the country Sunday morning, Syrian state-run TV reported.
But the unabated violence on the ground indicated nothing has changed in the nearly year-long onslaught by government forces.
At least 100 people were killed on the eve of the vote, almost half of them in Homs, according to the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, a network of opposition activists.
And on Sunday morning, rockets fell once again on the besieged Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, another opposition activist group. The LCC said at least 13 people were killed across Syria on Sunday — the vast majority in Homs.
Analysts and protesters ridicule the constitutional referendum as window dressing, the latest in a series of superficial measures intended to pacify President Bashar al-Assad’s critics.
Among the changes in the draft constitution is an article that states “the law shall regulate the provisions and procedures related to the formation of political parties.”
“Carrying out any political activity or forming any political parties or groupings on the basis of religious, sectarian, tribal, regional, class-based, professional, or on discrimination based on gender, origin, race or color may not be undertaken,” it continues.
The language suggests government permission is needed to form a party and excludes a number of people and groups from political activity, said Andrew Tabler, Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
“It’s not going to change the fact that it’s a minority-dominated situation,” he said. “It will remain a presidential system with powers vested in the hands of the president.”
Tabler said the president — whose family has ruled Syria for four decades — is using this “tactic to get people to leave the streets.”
But former Syrian lawmaker George Jabbour said “clause 8 of the new draft of the constitution is the essential point” of the document. It “allows a multi-party system as opposed to the Baath Party being the leading party of the society and the state as stipulated in the current constitution.”
The Baath Party rules Syria.
Jabbour said “special committees will be formed to look into the licensing of new parties in line with the new constitution.”
As for presidential elections, they “will be competitive since there is no leading party anymore, and all the parties’ candidates are eligible provided their candidacy is endorsed by at least 35 members of parliament,” Jabbour said.
But reports of attempted vote fixing have already emerged.
According to Lt. Col. Mohamed Hamado of the opposition Free Syrian Army, civilians say that government authorities are pressuring them to vote for the referendum.
Amid the promises of change, the humanitarian crisis mounts.
On Saturday, the Red Cross failed to reach a deal with Syrian authorities and opposition members for a break in fighting so wounded people could be evacuated from Homs, an agency spokesman said.
“There has been no evacuation from Homs (Saturday). We simply could not reach any kind of agreement,” International Committee of the Red Cross spokesman Saleh Dabbakeh said from Damascus.
He said the ICRC will continue trying to negotiate for access.
The ICRC has urged combatants to stop fighting for two hours each day to deliver humanitarian aid to Homs and other cities.
Opposition activists say relentless shelling and sniper fire have paralyzed Homs for more than three weeks. In addition to mounting carnage in the streets, residents report scarce or nonexistent access to food, water, electricity and medical care.
Among those killed was 17-year-old Anas al-Tarsheh, an opposition videographer who primarily documented the shelling of the Sunni-dominated Homs neighborhood of Inshaat, the LCC said.
CNN and other media outlets cannot independently verify opposition or government reports because Syria has severely limited access to the country by foreign journalists.
But the vast majority of reports from the ground indicate government forces are massacring citizens in an attempt to wipe out dissidents seeking al-Assad’s ouster.
CNN’s Salma Abdelaziz, Holly Yan, Joe Sterling and Yousuf Basil and journalist Mohamed Fadel Fahmy contributed to this report.
Tanks storm Harak town of the day of the referendum to stop voting and protests youtube.com/watch?v=qQbUf5…— Arab Spring (@ArabSpringFF) February 26, 2012
The referendum takes place amid regular anti-Assad demonstrations
The Syrian government is holding a national referendum on a new constitution, amid continuing violent unrest and a boycott by the opposition.
The new constitution calls for a multi-party parliamentary election within three months.
The opposition has dismissed Sunday’s vote as a farce and demands President Bashar al-Assad stand down.
The vote comes amid ongoing violence, with activists saying more than 89 people died across Syria on Saturday.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based activist group, said at least two people were killed in fresh fighting on Sunday.
The government has pressed ahead with organising the referendum despite the unrest, setting up more than 13,000 polling stations for 14.6m voters.
Voting began at 07:00 local time (05:00 GMT) and polling stations are due to stay open for 12 hours.
State television has been holding discussions about the new document, which allows for more opposition to Mr Assad’s Baath Party, and telling people how they can vote.
However, the constitution has been rejected out of hand by the opposition.
One group described the new constitution as fraudulent and the referendum as a farce.
It pointed out that the regime had never respected the old constitution, which enshrines freedom of speech and peaceful demonstrations and bans torture.
The BBC’s Jim Muir in neighbouring Beirut says how the vote can plausibly be held in the current situation remains to be seen.
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu echoed this view at a news conference in Istanbul, asking: “On one hand you say you are holding a referendum and on the other you are attacking with tank fire on civilian areas.
“You still think the people will go to a referendum the next day in the same city?”
The US has dismissed the referendum as “laughable”.
Friends of Syria
The Observatory said Saturday’s deaths included 24 civilians in the embattled city of Homs and that 23 government soldiers were killed in clashes with rebel groups across the country.
The Red Cross has been trying to evacuate more people trapped in Homs’s Baba Amr suburb but admitted it had made no progress on Saturday.
Among those it is trying to help are two injured Western journalists, Edith Bouvier and Paul Conroy. It also wants to retrieve the bodies of another two journalists, Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik, who were killed last week.
Hundreds of armed rebels from the Free Syrian Army are holding out in the suburb.
Meanwhile, international pressure is mounting on Mr Assad to end his government’s 11-month crackdown on opponents.
Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary general who has been appointed the UN and Arab League’s envoy to Syria, called for all parties to co-operate in finding a peaceful solution to the crisis.
On Friday, a meeting of the “Friends of Syria” group was held in the Tunisian capital, Tunis.
Delegates from 70 countries issued a declaration calling on the Damascus government to end violence immediately, allow humanitarian access, and permit the delivery of relief supplies.
The UN estimated in January that 5,400 people had been killed in the conflict. Activists say the death toll now is more than 7,300.
The Syrian regime restricts access to foreign journalists and casualty figures cannot be verified.