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French President Francois Hollande called on Friday for stiffer sanctions against Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and more support for rebels seeking to drive him from power at the start of a meeting of Western and Arab states who back the uprising.
“Bashar al-Assad must go,” Hollande told a meeting of foreign ministers and senior diplomats from the “Friends of Syria” group. “It’s in the interest of Syria, of its neighbors and everybody who wants peace in the region.”
“The Syrian regime believes violence is the solution … It is essential that Assad leaves power and an oppositional body be installed.”
Hollande said he wanted the participants at the talks - who were cheered by reports of the defection of a senior Syrian general - to also agree to step up humanitarian aid to the country.
Meanwhile, Abdulbaset Seyda, the head of the Syrian National Council said his group has asked for the implementation of Annan’s plan under Chapter 7 of the U.N. charter, which allows for sanctions ranging from economic measures to an arms embargo, and if necessary military force.
Chapter 7 was last used against Libya last year. But it could be highly controversial at the U.N. Security Council, given Russia and China’s veto powers.
Seyda also called for humanitarian corridors and a no-fly zone as over 100 nations met in Paris to discuss an end to the 16-month bloody crisis.
"All steps have to be taken to establish a humanitarian corridor and a no-fly zone," Abdel Basset Sayda said, claiming that the regime of President Bashar al-Assad "is about to fall."
Seyda also thanked Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE for supporting the bloc during the crisis in Syria.
“Assad‘s regime will fall and defections in the army are increasing,” Seyda told the conference, adding: “We reassure the Alawites and they are an essential part of the Syrian people,” in reference to a Shiite sect which Assad belongs to.
The “Friends of Syria” meeting hosted world powers attempting to secure a political situation to the 16 month-long conflict, is discussing a United States call for tough new U.N. sanctions against Assad and his inner circle. Over 100 Western and Arab nations have attended.
But despite the more than 16,500 people estimated killed in the 16-month uprising against Assad’s regime, key Syria allies Russia and China are not attending despite reports of changing attitudes in Moscow.
Hollande outlined five commitments to the Syrian people.
He urged the over 100 countries attending to reject "impunity for crimes," to push "the real and effective application of economic sanctions," greater backing for the opposition including "giving them means of communication," humanitarian aid and a pledge to "rebuild this beautiful country."
The Paris meeting follows a gathering in Tunis and another in Istanbul, both of which called in vain for tougher action against Assad’s government.
China did not attend either of those meetings, in which the United States, France, Britain, Germany and Arab nations Saudi Arabia and Qatar led a group of more than 60 members, including most EU states and many Arab League nations.
Speaking as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton flew to Paris for the 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 U.N. 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.”
“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 U.S. official.
Meanwhile, the number of United Nations observers monitoring the crisis in Syria could temporarily be reduced, diplomats said on Thursday ahead of the “Friends of Syria” meeting in Paris on Friday.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to recommend the change and further options for the future of the 300-strong unarmed military observer force monitoring mission to the 15-nation Security Council.
The deeply divided Security Council must make a decision on what to do with mission before July 20. Russia and China, which have twice vetoed resolutions condemning Damascus for its assault on the opposition and threatened it with sanctions, have indicated they want the U.N. mission to remain in place as is.
But the United States, European council members and others have suggested that keeping hundreds of military observers in Syria to monitor a non-working ceasefire makes no sense.
The council is scheduled to discuss the issue on Wednesday and is due to vote on July 18.
The monitoring mission’s mandate, which expires on July 20, calls for up to 300 unarmed military observers and an unspecified number of civilian experts. The mandate does not require that all 300 be in the country at any given time.
The mission’s head General Robert Mood suggested on Thursday that he would support such a reconfiguration of the mission. He said the mission must stay, despite the fact the ceasefire it was sent to police is non-existent and violence is reaching an “unprecedented level.”
But Mood said the 300-strong mission should be restructured to help support the political dialogue that foreign powers consider essential.