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Saudi official walks out of 'Friends of Syria' meeting

February 24, 2012 | 10:46 am

Friendsofsyria

A Saudi Arabian official walked out of the "Friends of Syria" diplomatic conference in Tunis on Friday after complaining that the group was doing too little to stop violence in the embattled country.

“Is it justice to offer aid and leave the Syrians to the killing machine? ” Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al Faisal said before leaving the meeting in Tunis, the Al-Arabiya television station reported.

His aide later downplayed the act, telling Reuters that they had merely left to attend bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the conference.

Saudi Arabia has been especially aggressive in its calls for action. Faisal argued Friday that arming the Syrian opposition was "an excellent idea," the Associated Press reported.

The “Friends of Syria,” a gathering of countries trying to pressure the Bashar Assad government, are expected to call for new sanctions, ramp up humanitarian aid and put more support behind the Syrian National Council, one of the biggest opposition groups, Patrick J. McDonnell reported for The Times.

The Saudi official isn't the first person to question how forceful the group is. Jess Hill, a correspondent for the Global Mail, quipped on Twitter it was upping pressure "like a wombat gumming its prey." But the meeting may be a first step toward something more powerful, some experts say.

"Until now, efforts to forge a united approach toward Syria have been sporadic and largely reliant on Middle East parties," Council on Foreign Relations Middle East scholar Robert M. Danin wrote:

The 'Friends of Syria' group now provides a new and critical forum for forging a consensus by an overwhelming majority of the international community on what needs to be done next in Syria. But the group is a forum, not a singular panacea.

Syria has been roiled by a nearly year-long uprising against Assad. Opposition activists and international human rights groups say the government has cracked down brutally on opponents and ordinary civilians. Syria argues it is under attack by armed terrorists and denies targeting civilians.

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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meets with Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Saud al Faisal in Tunis on Friday at the "Friends of Syria" conference. Credit: Jason Reed / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images
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