‘Friends of Syria’ consider ultimatum to Assad

LONDON (AP) — The United States, Europe and Arab nations Thursday crafted a stern warning to Syrian President Bashar Assad: Agree to an immediate cease-fire and allow humanitarian aid into areas hardest hit by his regime’s brutal crackdown on opponents, or face as-yet unspecified punishments.

U.S., European and Arab officials met in London to work out details of an ultimatum to Assad. Diplomats said it would demand immediate compliance or result in additional punitive measures, likely to include toughened sanctions. The ultimatum is to be presented at a major international conference on Syria set for Friday in Tunisia.

A draft of the document obtained by The Associated Press calls on “the Syrian government to implement an immediate cease-fire and to allow free and unimpeded access by the United Nations and humanitarian agencies to carry out a full assessment of needs in Homs and other areas.”

Homs has been under a fierce government attack for nearly three weeks.

The draft, which is still subject to change, also demands “that humanitarian agencies be permitted to deliver vital relief goods and services to civilians affected by the violence.” More than 5,400 people have been killed in the nearly year-old uprising.

Meanwhile, Tunisia’s presidential spokesman, Adnan Mancer, told The Associated Press in an interview ahead of Friday’s meeting that the North African country will propose a political solution to the Syrian crisis that includes the deployment of a peacekeeping force and Assad stepping down from power.

The political transition would be akin to what happened in Yemen, where president Ali Abdullah Saleh stepped down in favor of his deputy after widespread protests. The Arab League already has made similar calls on Assad.

American officials accompanying U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to the Tunis meeting of the “Friends of Syria” said the group hoped to make clear to Assad that his regime has a moral obligation to end the shelling of civilian areas and allow assistance into the country. The burden is on Assad to respond to the demands of the international community, they said.

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