Brussels - Apr 18, 2012 - 20:02
Last modified: 18 Apr 2012 19:02
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of tougher measures if he squanders his "last chance" by failing to implement a UN-Arab peace plan.
During a visit to Brussels, Clinton appeared increasingly concerned over whether a fragile six-day truce will hold and offered Assad a stark choice over whether he pursues peace or resumes crushing a pro-democracy movement.
"It is obviously quite concerning" that, while UN observers are starting to deploy in Syria in the wake of the ceasefire, the "guns of the Assad regime are once again firing in Homs, Idlib and elsewhere", Clinton told reporters.
Opposition sources said three civilians were killed as regime forces launched a fresh bombardment of a rebel neighbourhood in the central city of Homs, while four others, including a nine-year-old, were killed elsewhere.
UN officials said more than 9,000 people have been killed since March 2011, when Assad began violently crushing what started as a peaceful movement but has turned more violent.
The spreading violence has raised concerns for regional peace and security.
"We are at a crucial turning point," the chief US diplomat said on the eve of a high-level meeting in Paris designed to consider further pressure on Assad.
Either the world community succeeds in "pushing forward" Annan's six-point plan, including creating non-conflict zones, or "we see Assad squandering his last chance before additional measures have to be considered", Clinton said.
She said she had discussed the "need to tighten sanctions" with ministers she met on the sidelines of talks between NATO foreign and defense ministers in Brussels.
Clinton talked of the need to "tighten pressure on the regime and on those who support the regime," adding: "Every country in NATO is watching the situation with concern."
However, NATO officials said that alliance member Turkey -- which earlier this month saw Syrians fire cross its border and hit both Turks and Syrian refugees -- has not asked the alliance for help.
Clinton declined to answer a question on whether it was fine for other countries to arm the rebels -- a stand taken by Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
She simply said the United States "is not providing lethal arms" to the opposition and is instead sending communications equipment and other non-lethal aid to them.
"We will continue to do everything we can to assist the opposition to be perceived and in reality become the alternative voice for the Syrian people's future," Clinton said.
Clinton said meanwhile she looked forward to her consultations in Paris on Thursday.
France said that 14 foreign ministers, including Clinton, would attend the Paris meeting to send a "strong" message to Assad's regime to implement the Annan plan.