- The Friends of Syria group plans to recognize the political opposition
- Members of the opposition Syrian National Council are expected to attend
- Arab nations are supplying arms to rebel Syrian army, diplomatic sources say
(CNN) — World powers convening Friday in Tunisia are mapping out a plan to deliver humanitarian aid and give political legitimacy to the Syrian opposition, while details emerged that Arab nations have begun supplying arms to Syrian rebels, sources told CNN.
The diplomatic developments follow opposition claims that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces are now emulating elsewhere in the country the shelling attacks against the besieged city of Homs that have left hundreds dead.
More than 100 people were killed Thursday, including 14 children and a soldier who refused to open fire on civilians, according to the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, a loose network of opposition groups that documents government violence.
Diplomatic sources told CNN late Thursday that a number of Arab nations are supplying arms to the rebel Syrian army and militias.
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The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, would not identify the countries.
But there are no shortage of possibilities, beginning with Turkey and nations belonging to the Arab League that have condemned al-Assad’s nearly year-long brutal crackdown on an opposition calling for an end to his regime.
The Friends of Syria gathering in Tunisia — the cradle of the Arab Spring movement — is expected to draw more than 70 countries, including the United States and member nations of the European Union and the Arab League.
The Friends of Syria group grew out of the failure of the U.N. Security Council to adopt a resolution condemning the violence and laying out a plan for al-Assad to transfer power.
Neither Russia, which is a Soviet-era ally and arms dealer to Syria, nor China is participating in the Tunisia meeting. Both countries vetoed the U.N. resolution.
On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton predicted the opposition will find willing sources to supply them with munitions to counter the Syrian government onslaught blamed for thousands of deaths.
“They will find some where, some how the means to defend themselves, as well as begin offensive measures and the pressure will build on Russia and China. World opinion is not going to stand idly by,” she said.
The diplomatic developments come at a critical time in Syria as opposition activists describe dire conditions: a lack of medical supplies, food and water shortages and an escalating body count.
Thousands have died in Syria since mid-March of 2011, when the government launched a crackdown against an anti-government protest movement that quickly devolved into an opposition movement with a rebel army and armed militias.
Al-Assad’s forces on Thursday reportedly shelled the cities of Daraa and Idlib and were also involved in violent clashes in Aleppo and Deir Ezzor, according to the LCC.
Al-Assad has denied targeting civilians, saying his forces are after “terrorists” and foreign fighters bent on destabilizing Syria.
Evidence that civilians are being killed by government forces has been documented by citizen journalists and the opposition who post their work on social media websites and YouTube. The LCC reports the death toll exceeds 7,000, while the Syria government claims more than 2,000 security forces have been killed.
CNN and other media outlets often cannot independently verify opposition or government reports because the Syrian regime has severely limited access to the country by foreign journalists.
There was no word Friday on whether diplomatic efforts were making in-roads in efforts to evacuate from Homs the bodies of American reporter Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik as well as two wounded journalists — British photographer Paul Conroy and French reporter Edith Bouvier.
Initial reports indicated Paris-based photographer William Daniel was among the wounded in Wednesday’s shelling of a makeshift media center in the heavily-hit Homs neighborhood of Bab Amr that left Colvin and Ochlik dead.
But Daniel surfaced on a YouTube video from Homs, saying he was unhurt but was worried about the deteriorating condition of Bouvier.
The nations participating in the Friends of Syria gathering in Tunis are expected to unveil a plan for delivering emergency aid while calling on al-Assad to agree to an immediate cease-fire or face a yet-to-be mentioned response from the world community.
A draft of the document, shared with CNN, will recognize the opposition Syrian National Council, members of which will be at the session, as a credible representative of the Syrian people.
Diplomats cautioned the draft was subject to change.
CNN’s Elise Labott, Hala Gorani and Chelsea J. Carter contributed to this report.
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