France seeks backing for humanitarian corridors in Syria

REPORTING FROM BEIRUT — France is seeking international backing for a proposal to establish so-called humanitarian corridors in Syria to get aid to besieged areas of the country, where the government has turned its guns on protesters and armed insurgents demanding the ouster of President Bashar Assad.

In an interview with France Inter radio, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said he had raised the idea with the United Nations and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and would discuss it with Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo on Thursday to consider imposing sanctions on Syria. (Link in French.)

The proposal, which emerged from a meeting Wednesday between Juppe and representatives of the opposition Syrian National Council, is likely to alarm Assad, who has repeatedly accused Western nations of pursuing a Libya-style military intervention.

France led efforts to impose a no-fly zone in Libya and took an active role in air strikes that helped topple the country’s longtime leader, Moammar Kadafi. But Juppe said Thursday that military intervention in Syria was not under consideration.

He said one option would be to persuade Syria’s government to authorize humanitarian corridors. If Syria refuses, he said, international observers could be deployed. But he said, “No intervention is possible without an international mandate.”

The European Union said Thursday that protecting civilians caught up in the crackdown "is an increasingly urgent and important aspect" of responding to the violence, according to the Associated Press. But the statement stopped short of endorsing Juppe's proposal.

The United Nations says at least 3,500 people have been killed in the crackdown. The opposition Local Coordination Committees reported 15 more deaths Thursday, most of them in the Homs region, the epicenter of the uprising. Syria has restricted access to journalists and the figures could not be independently verified.

Assad's government blames the violence on armed "terrorists" and says more than 1,000 security force members have also been killed.

Pressure has been mounting on Assad over his handling of the unrest.  The Arab League suspended Syria for failing to implement a peace plan that Damascus signed Nov. 2 calling on the government to withdraw its forces from cities and towns and to hold talks with the opposition.

Arab foreign ministers are now threatening to impose sanctions unless Syria allows an observer mission into the country, though they have repeatedly extended the deadline in an apparent effort to salvage the peace initiative.

Assad has labeled the League's plan a "pretext" for Western military intervention.

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— Alexandra Zavis

 
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