The opposition Syrian National Council called on Monday for military intervention by Arab and Western governments, including the establishment of a no-fly zone across all of Syria to protect civilians from President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
George Sabra, a spokesman for the SNC, told a news conference in Istanbul that the broad-based opposition group had decided to arm the Free Syrian Army and added that some foreign governments were helping to send weapons.
“We demand military intervention by Arab and Western countries to protect civilians,” Sabra said, speaking a day before SNC representatives were due to meet U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan in Ankara.
“We demand establishment of secured humanitarian corridors and zones to protect the civilians. We demand implementation of a no-fly zone over entire Syria to prevent Assad from continuing massacres.”
He said the SNC had established a coordinating bureau to channel arms to the Free Syrian Army, with the help of foreign governments, but he declined to say where the bureau was located or which governments were involved.
“The Syrian National Council has taken concrete and practical decisions to arm Free Syrian Army that is established to protect the civilians. And we invite all colonels and other military officials in the Syrian army to take sides with the people of Syria,” Sabra said.
He refused to divulge details, saying: “the military affairs are taken care of by the military coordination office and such a matter shall not be disclosed to people other than the ones who are dealing with it.”
He urged “the friends of the Syrian people to take a steadfast position” on the bloodshed and said the regime responded to a weekend mission by international peace envoy Kofi Annan “with violence and killings.”
SNC chief Burhan Ghalioun said the “international community can no longer make hollow promises and the Arab League cannot go on publishing press releases if they want to end the deadly violence.
“It is time for the international community to take serious and concrete measures to end the violence,” said Ghalioun.
Annan to meet opposition
Annan, who held talks with Assad in Damascus over the weekend, was due to meet the opposition representatives at 0800 GMT in Ankara on Tuesday, and to make a statement afterwards.
He met Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to discuss the crisis, having first gone to Doha from Syria, as Qatar chairs the Arab League.
Annan said he was trying to get everybody to the table through a political process, while ensuring that humanitarian access is opened and the killing of civilians stops.
“Since I came to the region I am following very, very closely developments in Syria and there are grave and appalling reports of atrocities and abuses,” he told reporters in Ankara.
“Killings of civilians must end now. The world must send a clear and united message that this is simply unacceptable.”
Ankara has turned against its former friend Assad.
Aside from providing refuge for more than 12,500 Syrians who have fled their homeland over the past year, the Turkish government has allowed the opposition to meet in Istanbul, and provided sanctuary for rebels in the Free Syrian Army.
The bodies of 50 women and children, some with their throats slit, were found in Homs after a “massacre” that sent families fleeing the flashpoint central city, activists and the opposition said earlier on Monday.
Sabra rejected allegations by Syrian Information Minister Adnan Mahmoud that “armed terrorist gangs” were wreaking violence in the country, including in Homs, saying: “Each time something happens in Syria, the regime fabricates its own story.
He added: “the videos and the pictures all show clearly, as clear evidence, that it is the regime which is committing these massacres against the civilians.”