BRUSSELS, April 18 (Reuters) - Syria is at a turning point where the violence must stop or the United States will find ways to increase pressure on the Damascus government, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday.
Clinton gave no details of what the United States or other nations might do if a much-violated ceasefire between government forces and rebels does not take hold and if U.N. monitors are unable to fully deploy in Syria.
Clinton spoke at a meeting of NATO ministers in Brussels, where she was asked about action to halt bloodshed in the year-long popular uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has sought to crush it with tanks and troops.
U.N.-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan has proposed a peace plan calling for the deployment of U.N. observers, the withdrawal of heavy weapons and troops from population centres, humanitarian aid and the release of political prisoners.
"We are at a crucial turning point. Either we succeed in pushing forward with ... monitors steadily broadening and deepening a zone of non-conflict and peace or we see Assad squandering his last chance before additional measures have to be considered," Clinton told a news conference.
"We will continue to increase the pressure on Assad," she added, saying she had spoken to counterparts "about the need to tighten sanctions, tighten pressure on the regime, on those who support the regime."
Because the United States and the European Union already have extensive economic sanctions on Syria, the main hope for those who advocate greater pressure is that Arab states apply their own sanctions much more rigorously.
As she has in the past, Clinton also appeared to leave the door open to other nations arming Syrian rebels - something the United States has itself rejected although it is giving the opposition communications and logistical assistance.
"I have only spoken for the United States. The United States is not providing lethal arms," she said when asked if it was time to give greater consideration to arming the rebels.
While the truce has held in some parts of Syria since Assad pledged to enforce it last week, in strong opposition areas such as Homs, Hama, Idlib and Deraa the army has kept up attacks on rebels, using heavy weapons despite its pledge to pull back.
Syria's foreign minister told reporters in Beijing that no more than 250 truce monitors were needed, and they should come from what he called "neutral" countries such as Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, which have been more sympathetic to Assad than the West and Arab League states.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was due to present proposals for the next phase of the mission on Wednesday to the Security Council. He has said more monitors and aircraft are needed to supervise a truce in a large country of 23 million.
More than 10,000 people have been killed in 13 months of fighting. (Reporting by Sebastian Moffett and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Mark Heinrich)
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07/13/2012 1:00 PM EDT
Car Bomb In Damascus
Syrian policemen inspect the site of a car bomb explosion on Mazzeh highway in the capital Damascus on July 13, 2012. AFP PHOTO/STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/GettyImages)
07/13/2012 12:00 PM EDT
Susan Rice Condemns Killings
U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice tweets:
@ AmbassadorRice :
#Syria regime turned artillery, tanks and helicopters on its own men & women. It unleashed knife-wielding shabiha gangs on its own children.
07/13/2012 11:58 AM EDT
Russia Condemns Massacre
Russia says international envoy Kofi Annan will visit Moscow on Monday to discuss the ongoing crisis in Syria. Russia also called for an inquiry into an alleged massacre that took place in the village of Tramseh on Thursday. "We have no doubt that this wrongdoing serves the interests of those powers that are not seeking peace but persistently seek to sow the seeds of interconfessional and civilian conflict on Syrian soil," Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement, according to Reuters. Moscow did not apportion blame for the killings.
Read more on Reuters.com.
07/13/2012 11:55 AM EDT
Footage Of Massacre Aftermath (WARNING: VIDEO CONTAINS DISTURBING IMAGES)
The Associated Press obtained a video that purports to show the aftermath of an alleged massacre in the village of Tramseh, near Hama.
07/13/2012 9:34 AM EDT
How Do Syrian Fighters Get Their Arms?
How do Syria's fighters get their arms? An overview put together by Reuters explains that there are three gateways to the country -- Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq.
Syrian rebels are smuggling small arms into Syria through a network of land and sea routes involving cargo ships and trucks moving through Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq, maritime intelligence and Free Syrian Army (FSA) officers say.
Western and regional powers deny any suggestion they are involved in gun running. Their interest in the sensitive border region lies rather in screening to ensure powerful weapons such as surface to air missiles do not find their way to Islamist or other militants.
Read the full report here.
07/13/2012 9:10 AM EDT
Activists Report New Massacre (WARNING: GRAPHIC PHOTOS)
This citizen journalism image made from video provided by Shaam News Network SNN, purports to show a victim wounded by violence that, according to anti-regime activists, was carried out by government forces in Tremseh, Syria about 15 kilometers (nine miles) northwest of the central city of Hama, Thursday, July 12, 2012. The accounts, some of which claim more than 200 people were killed in the violence Thursday, could not be independently confirmed, but would mark the latest in a string of brutal offensives by Syrian forces attempting to crush the rebellion. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, SNN)
This citizen journalism image made from video provided by Shaam News Network SNN, purports to show a man mourning a victim killed by violence that, according to anti-regime activists, was carried out by government forces in Tremseh, Syria about 15 kilometers (nine miles) northwest of the central city of Hama, Thursday, July 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, SNN)
07/12/2012 6:50 PM EDT
Hama Revolutionary Council: More Than 220 Killed
According to the Hama Revolutionary Council, a Syrian opposition group, more than 220 people have been killed in a new alleged massacre in Taramseh. Earlier reports said more than 100 people were killed. "More than 220 people fell today in Taramseh," the Council said in a statement. "They died from bombardment by tanks and helicopters, artillery shelling and summary executions."
Fadi Sameh, an opposition activist from Taramseh, told Reuters he had left the town before the reported massacre but was in touch with residents. "It appears that Alawite militiamen from surrounding villages descended on Taramseh after its rebel defenders pulled out, and started killing the people. Whole houses have been destroyed and burned from the shelling," Sameh claimed.
Read more on Reuters.com.
07/12/2012 6:17 PM EDT
Syrian State TV: 'Large Numbers Of Terrorists Killed'
Syrian activist Rami Jarrah tweets that Syrian State TV has confirmed deaths in Tremseh. "Terrorists" is often the term used by the Syrian regime for opposition forces.
@ AlexanderPageSY :
Syrian State TV: clashes between security apparatus & terrorists in #Tremseh of #Hama leaves large numbers of terrorists killed #Syria
07/12/2012 5:36 PM EDT
Update: Death Toll In New Massacre Reportedly More Than 200
@ Reuters :
UPDATE: DEATH TOLL IN SYRIAN FORCES' ATTACK ON VILLAGE IN SYRIA'S HAMA REGION IS MORE THAN 200, MOSTLY CIVILIANS - OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS