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A six-month old poses with a machine gun owned by supporters of the Free Syrian Army. The photo was taken inside a house near Idlib in Syria. Rodrigo Abd/AP/Press Association Images

Ireland to take part in 'Friends of Syria' conference

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore is in Tunisia for discussions on how to help the Syrian people.

TÁNAISTE AND MINISTER for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore has travelled to Tunisia today to attend the Arab League-organised International Conference of the Friends of the Syrian People.

He will join leaders from about 70 nations, including the US and the UK. Arab League foreign ministers will also take part in the major conference which aims to find ways to help people in Syria struggling with the regime’s violent and bloody campaign.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she is in Tunis for the first ‘Friends of Syria’ conference as part of “ongoing efforts with our friends, allies and the Syrian opposition to crystallise next steps to halt the slaughter of the Syrian people and pursue a transition to democracy”.

The situation in Syria has deteriorated rapidly since the beginning of this month when the vote on a UN Security Council Resolution failed. Many believe that Russia and China’s veto of the Resolution emboldened President Bashar Assad to escalate his crackdown on dissent in Homs.

The city has been besieged since 4 February.

Gilmore said that the meeting hopes to ease the grave humanitarian situation, as well as lend political support to the Syrian opposition.

He has called for the international community to compel the regime to stop its “appalling and unacceptable” attacks on its own people. The Tánaiste also backed a series of robust economic, political and diplomatic measures.

Escalating violence, rising death toll

Earlier this week, Sunday Times reporter Marie Colvin, French photographer Remi Ochlik and Rami al-Sayed, a  Syrian whose live broadcasts from Homs revealed the gravity of the situation, were all killed in shelling attacks.

Journalists and humanitarian aid agencies’ access to Syria has been extremely limited and the conference aims to pile diplomatic pressure on Damascus to convince it to allow emergency relief to be given to citizens.

Speaking from London yesterday, Clinton said families are suffering in cities under siege and the Syrian nation has been brought to the brink of chaos.

We cannot let the obstruction of a few countries to stop the world community coming to the aid of the Syrian people.

She called for action on three fronts – ensuring greater access to humanitarian relief, increasing pressure on the regime and preparing for a democratic transition.

Neither Russia or China has sent representatives to the meeting.

Yesterday evening, the UN and the Arab League appointed the former UN chief Kofi Annan as a special joint envoy to Syria.

He will act as a high-level representative on the crisis with an aim to bringing an end to all violence and human rights violations. The appointment comes after the publication of a report which details patterns of summary execution, arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearance, torture, sexual violence and other violations of human and children’s rights.

Meanwhile, on the ground in Syria, the Local Coordination Committees has claimed that more than 100 people were killed in a day of violence yesterday.

The death toll includes up to 14 children, it said in a statement posted online last night. The UN believes more than 500 children have been killed since the uprising began last March.

More: French journalist injured in Homs shelling appeals for evacuation>

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