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In Tunisia, ‘Friends of Syria’ Call for Ceasefire, Assad to Step Down

February 24, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JEFFREY BROWN: The U.S. and dozens of other nations joined together today in insisting that the Syrian government stop killing its own people and surrender power.

The Friends of Syria met in Tunisia, and moved closer to recognizing the opposition Syrian National Council, but they didn’t commit to military intervention. Meanwhile, heavy fighting continued in Homs and other cities in Syria. Activists said at least 100 people were killed.

We begin with a report from Carl Dinnen of Independent Television News.

(GUNFIRE)

CARL DINNEN:  A heavy machine gun mounted on a pickup. The Free Syrian Army looks like it’s on the offensive, looks like it’s better equipped.

In Rastan, an officer boasts that they have blown up one of Assad’s tanks. He directs his comments at Syria’s most powerful ally, Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

MAN (through translator): Putin and his weapons are now under my feet. Look at how we managed to destroy this vehicle.

CARL DINNEN:  The diplomatic big guns were also trained on Syria today, taking aim from a summit in Tunisia. The U.K. said it was strengthening ties with the rebels.

WILLIAM HAGUE, British foreign secretary: We in common with other nations will now treat them and recognize them as a legitimate representative of the Syrian people.

CARL DINNEN:  The E.U. agreed to freeze Syrian assets. But the Saudi delegation eventually walked out, saying not enough was being done and calling for the rebels to be supplied with weapons.

But none of that will quickly help the people who are stuck here. The U.N. says the Syrians have been targeting children. This girl says she was hurt in an attack near Homs.

GIRL (through translator): I was with a boy, and he was hit as well in the thigh. He was bleeding badly. We had just been going to see my grandfather to get some bread.

CARL DINNEN:  Despite heavy fighting in Homs today, the Red Crescent have just announced that they have evacuated women and children from the Baba Amr district.

Militarily, it is still President Assad’s regime which has the upper hand. But they are hemorrhaging support. The opposition claimed there were 370 demonstrations across the country today, and more and more soldiers like these are defecting to the rebel cause.

JUDY WOODRUFF: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had strong words for Syria’s President Assad and his regime and his supporters after today’s summit in Tunisia.

Here is some of what she said.

SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: All of us gathered here today reached consensus. Now, that doesn’t mean that every one of us don’t have other ideas and other recommendations, because we are all quite diverse from all over the world.

But I want to stay focused on what we agreed on. We agreed on increasing the pressure on Assad, getting humanitarian aid in as quickly as possible, and preparing for a democratic transition.

I don’t think anyone wants to see a bloody, protracted civil war. We would like to see the kind of transition to democracy and peace that happened here in Tunisia. Our goal is to bring as much pressure to bear as we can, not only on Assad, but on those around him.

The entire world, other than Russia and China, were willing to recognize that we must take international action against the Syrian regime. I would be willing to go back to the Security Council again and again and again. But we need to change the attitude of the Russian and Chinese governments.

It’s quite distressing to see two permanent members of the Security Council using their veto when people are being murdered, women, children, brave young men. Houses are being destroyed. It is just despicable. And I ask, whose side are they on? They are clearly not on the side of the Syrian people.