PARIS- A group of western and Arab countries on Friday called for tougher sanctions against the Syrian government and were mulling over a peaceful political transition in the violence-torn Arab country.
Over 100 countries have sent delegations to the third meeting of "Friends of Syria" held in Paris, where foreign ministers and senior diplomats were expected to further back Syrian opposition by equipping them with communication tools to improve their organisation.
The meeting also focused on pushing for tougher sanctions to force Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to leave office.
In his opening remarks, French President Francois Hollande said he expected a rapid implementation of the UN and Arab League-backed peace plan from U.N. mediator Kofi Annan to stop an "unbearable situation" in Syria.
"Today, our meeting here in Paris has set a goal: to encourage the Security Council to take as soon as possible its responsibilities to better support the plan to end the crisis," Hollande said.
"The Annan Plan is still the safest way to stop violence and to implement a controlled political transition," he added.
Hollande also called for tougher sanctions against President al-Assad and more support for rebels.
"Bashar al-Assad must go. It's in the interest of Syria, of its neighbors and everybody who wants peace in the region," he stressed.
The foreign ministers and senior diplomats from 50 Western, Arab and other countries - including Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's former ally and neighbor turned bitter foe Turkey- urged stronger UN Security Council action and "broader and tougher" sanctions.
They also agreed to "massively increase" aid to Syria's rebels and to provide them with communications equipment, according to a final statement. Western powers are reluctant to offer much greater firepower to rebels whose ranks include anti-Western Islamists.
Diplomats urged the fractured Syrian opposition to unite. Divisions among Assad's foes, visible notably in a fistfight at an opposition meeting in Cairo this week, have also limited the coordination of efforts to remove him by force.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told Le Parisien newspaper that
the meeting would push for a Chapter VII United Nations resolution to enforce
the transition plan agreed by world powers last week in Geneva.
A Chapter VII
resolution authorizes the use of military force "to maintain or restore
international peace and security."
Fabius said the
meeting would also look to "widen the scope" of sanctions on the
Syrian regime and "support the opposition by providing it with
The United States and its international allies called Friday for new,
global sanctions against President Bashar Assad's regime, stepping up the
pressure after the defection of a top general dealt a major blow to the Syrian
China and Russia, both permanent members of the UN Security Council,
did not attend the Paris meeting.
Friday's meeting of the Friends of Syria group is the third this year
after meetings in Tunis and Istanbul.
The meeting comes amid reports of the first defection of a high-ranking
Syrian military commander.
The uprising in Syria began in March 2011 with peaceful protests
calling for President Bashar al-Assad's regime ouster but has become increasingly militarized as the
opposition took up arms to fight a brutal government crackdown. Military
defections also have been on the rise.