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A New Round of International Talks on Syria

February 23, 2012

Since March 2011 Syrian has been in the throes of an uprising in which various opposition groups have demanded the fall of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Violence as escalated as the government has attempted to supress the rebellion, and thousands of civilians have been killed (in recent weeks, the city of Homs has undergone sustained assaults and an estimated 700 people have been killed there). A United Nations Report distributed February 22 (available here, see paragraph 25) indicates nearly 6,400 civilian deaths since the beginning of the uprising.

What should be the response of the international community? This Friday, February 24, the Friends of Syria group will hold its first meeting in Tunis, Tunisia to consider this question. The group of foreign ministers, representing about 80 countries, is expected to focus on providing humanitarian assistance to civilians in Syria and to escalate diplomatic pressure on Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad to accept an Arab League plan to resign and prepare for elections. This conference follows a similar effort in the UN Security Council earlier this month to press Syria to accept the Arab League peace plan. Russia and China vetoed that resolution on the grounds that it did not specifically rule out military intervention or regime change. (For several analyses of the Security Council showdown see here, here, here, and here.)

The meeting in Tunis is viewed as an attempt to work around deadlock in the Security Council, but significant obstacles remain. Russia and China, for instance, will not participate in Friday’s meeting. And, it’s not just the international community that’s divided. Syria’s opposition movement is “a fractious collection of political groups, longtime exiles, grass-roots organizers and armed militants, all deeply divided alon ideological, enthnic or sectarian lines, and too disjointed to agree on even the rudiments of a strategy to topple President Bashar al-Assad’s government,” reports the New York Times. Given these two obstacles, there may in fact be little the outside world can do. CNN reports here on why the world isn’t intervening. For further analysis see these articles in Reuters and the Christian Science Monitor.

For continuing coverage, visit Al Jazeera’s Live Blog on Syria here. You can also follow events on facebook’s Syrian Uprising 2011 Information Centre.

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