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'Friends of Syria' set to meet in Paris

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 10:56 PM EDT, Thu July 5, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Clinton arrives Thursday night in Paris
  • She will seek to boost pressure on the al-Assad regime
  • Friday's talks mark the third such meeting

Paris, France (CNN) -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived Thursday night in Paris to attend Friday's "Friends of Syria" meeting, the third time the forum will have met in an attempt to end the violence that has wracked the country for 16 months.

"At that meeting, the Secretary will consult with her colleagues on steps to increase pressure on the Assad regime and to support UN-Arab League Special Envoy Annan's efforts to end the violence and facilitate a political transition to a post-Assad Syria," said State Department Victoria Nuland in a statement.

Clinton will consult with French leaders about how to proceed on Syria and other key areas of global concern, Nuland said.

The group, led by France, the United States, Britain, Germany, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, includes officials from international organizations and more than 60 countries.

In a statement, Amnesty International called on the Friends of Syria to impose an arms embargo to stop the transfer of arms to the Syrian government; a Security Council referral to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court; and a freeze on al-Assad's assets and those of his close associates.

"The time for mere talk and handwringing about Syria's dire situation has long since passed, with in excess of 12,000 individuals already killed during more than 16 months of protest and unrest," said Ann Harrison, Middle East and North Africa Programme Deputy Director at Amnesty International.

Amnesty said "the overwhelming majority" of crimes have been committed by Syrian security forces during the unrest, but that it has received reports of abuses, including possible war crimes by some members of armed opposition groups.

Clinton's arrival came hours after Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, the U.N. chief military observer in Syria, said the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad had committed to Annan's peace plan. "I received from the government a very clear commitment to the six-point plan," said Mood after meeting in Damascus with a government group led by Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mikdad.

But al-Assad has made similar commitments before, without following through on them, world leaders have said. In addition, two key countries -- Russia and China -- will not be in attendance. Both countries have veto power in the Security Council and have opposed international efforts to effect change in Syria.

"Russia insists that the Friends of Syria is detrimental to peaceful settlement of the political crisis in Syria as on the whole its activities are directed at finding various loops to overthrow the current regime of President Bashar al-Assad, instead of scrupulously implementing Kofi Annan's peace plan," the official Ria-Novosti news agency reported.

Friday's meeting comes less than a week after a conference of foreign ministers, which included China and Russia, met in Geneva and called for a transitional government body as a step toward ending the uprising.

Meanwhile, al-Assad says that his country's opposition movement has failed to duplicate the kinds of mass protests that have unfolded in other Arab nations since the Arab Spring began more than a year ago, according to a Turkish newspaper.

"They wanted to bring people out into the streets in large numbers just like in Egypt and Tunisia," al-Assad said in the latest installment of an interview published Thursday in the newspaper Cumhuriyet. "However they were not successful."

Al-Assad said Syrians have been paid the equivalent of $10 to $100 to participate in the protests.

Last year's mass protests in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya led to the ousting of leaders in those countries. Al-Assad said the aim of his foes "is to divide Syria or to create internal war." In response, he vowed, "the struggle against terrorism will continue."

Al-Assad blames "terrorists" for the violence.

Syria's uprising began last year when the government cracked down on peaceful protests. The regime's show of force provoked a nationwide revolt with a growing rebel movement.

Videos from the country have shown thousands of anti-government forces taking to the streets of dozens of cities during the uprising.

One opposition group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said Wednesday that more than 16,700 have been killed in nearly 16 months of unrest. More than 11,000 of them were civilians, it said.

At least 70 people died Thursday across the country, the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria said.

CNN cannot independently confirm such reports because Syria restricts access by international journalists.

Regime security forces have been accused of brutality, with human rights groups and the United Nations documenting widespread abuses against civilians.

Human Rights Watch releases report on Syria's "state policy of torture."

In the interview, al-Assad was asked about U.N. Human Rights Council accusations of crimes against humanity by members of his units.

"As you know, the majority of these institutions are under the influence of the American and (W)estern administrations," he said. "These reports are written as a result of international power balance. The aim is to increase pressure. They can say whatever they want. We are right and we will not submit."

Pressed on whether his units committed abuses, he said, "Well of course mistakes are always made." But, he added, the government should not be blamed.

"Crimes are committed. If one group commits a crime, will the state be responsible for that?" he said. "These things happen everywhere in the world. Individual institutional crime is one thing; to blame the entire state is another thing."

Wikileaks releases 2.4 million e-mails from Syrian officials

Observers have expressed concern about another facet to the violence in Syria: the emergence of jihadists.

The Nusra Front for the People of the Levant, a group analysts have identified as a jihadist movement, has taken responsibility for attacks in the capital of Damascus and other locations.

It claimed responsibility on its website for a strike on a pro-government TV station outside of Damascus last month that left seven people dead.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told CNN that "extremist groups have an important role in the level of violence that is going on" in Syria.

For years, militants have been crossing into Iraq from Syria. Now, there's "solid information and intelligence" they're heading into Syria, Zebari said.

CNN's Ivan Watson, Yesim Comert and Joe Sterling contributed to this report.

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