* Friends of Syria to demand humanitarian access
* Clinton says opposition will find the means for attacks
* Rebel bastion in Homs bombarded for 20th day
* Wounded Western journalists still trapped in city
* U.N. inquiry says crimes against humanity committed
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis and Alistair Lyon
AMMAN/BEIRUT, Feb 23 Western and Arab
nations will demand that Syrian forces implement an immediate
ceasefire to allow relief supplies to reach desperate civilians
in bombarded cities such as Homs when they meet in Tunis on
Piling pressure on President Bashar al-Assad, U.N.
investigators accused his security apparatus of crimes against
humanity as world outrage mounted over violence that has cost
thousands of lives during an almost year-long popular revolt
against his 11-year rule.
The Syrian uprising will only intensify, U.S. Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton said at a London conference. "There will
be increasingly capable opposition forces. They will from
somewhere, somehow find the means to defend themselves as well
as begin offensive measures," she told reporters.
The "Friends of Syria" meeting, that Clinton will attend,
will call on Syrian forces to stop firing to give international
aid groups access to areas worst hit by the violence which are
running out of medicine and food, according to a draft
declaration obtained by Reuters.
The draft also "recognised the Syrian National Council as a
legitimate representative of Syrians seeking peaceful democratic
change", a phrase which appeared to fall short of full
endorsement of the most prominent group opposed to Assad.
About 70 nations, including the United States, Turkey, and
European and Arab countries that want Assad to step down, will
take part in the talks, but Russia and China, which have jointly
vetoed two U.N. Security Council resolutions on Syria, say they
will stay away.
U.S. officials avoided answering questions on whether the
group may discuss the possibility of arming the opposition,
something that some nations favour and that the United States,
in a change in emphasis, on Tuesday suggested could become an
The Syrian National Council is allied with the Free Syrian
Army (FSA), made up mostly of army deserters fighting security
forces that have sought to crush protests against Assad, whose
minority Alawite sect dominates Sunni-majority Syria.
Syrian security forces lined up and shot dead 13 men and
boys from one extended family, which has the same name as the
FSA's commander Riad al-Asaad, in the village of Kfartoun in
Hama province on Thursday, activists in Hama city said.
It was not immediately clear if the victims were related to
Asaad, who is based in Turkey and comes from the northwestern
province of Idlib.
Activists said three people were also killed in shelling of
the nearby village of Soubin. The bodies of five Syrian workers
who disappeared two days ago after crossing from Lebanon on
their way to Hama were found on Thursday, they said. Two people
were killed by troops at a checkpoint inside the city.
CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY
Such accounts are hard to verify due to Syrian government
restrictions on independent journalists.
U.N. investigators said Syrian forces had shot and killed
unarmed women and children, shelled residential areas and
tortured wounded protesters in hospital under orders issued at
the "highest levels" of the army and government.
In their report to the U.N. Human Rights Council, they
called for perpetrators of such crimes against humanity to face
prosecution and said they had drawn up a confidential list of
names of commanders and officials alleged to be responsible.
The commission found that Free Syrian Army rebels had also
committed abuses "although not comparable in scale".
Syrian authorities have not commented, but they rejected the
commission's previous report in November as "totally false".
Rockets, shells and mortar rounds rained on the Baba Amro
district, where armed insurgents are holed up with terrified
civilians, for the 20th day in a row, activists said. The Sunni
Muslim quarters of Inshaat and Khalidiya also came under fire.
Homs-based activist Abu Imad said tanks had entered the
Jobar area in the south of Baba Amro.
"Explosions are shaking the whole of Homs. God have mercy,"
Abdallah al-Hadi said from the city, where more than 80 people,
including two Western journalists and Syrian opposition citizen
journalist Rami al-Sayed, were reported killed on Wednesday.
Western diplomats said it had not yet been possible to
extract the bodies of Marie Colvin, an American working for
Britain's Sunday Times, and French photographer Remi Ochlik.
Two journalists wounded in the same attack - British
photographer Paul Conroy and French reporter Edith Bouvier,
along with French photographer William Daniels, who was unhurt -
were also awaiting evacuation from the Baba Amro neighbourhood.
Bouvier, in a YouTube clip posted by activists, said she
urgently needed an operation on a broken leg and appealed for a
ceasefire and medical transport to neighbouring Lebanon.
The Syrian Information Ministry rejected accusations that
Syria was responsible for the deaths of journalists, who
"infiltrated into the country on their own responsibility".
The army is blocking medical supplies to parts of Homs and
electricity is cut off 15 hours a day, activists say.
The International Committee of the Red Cross has been trying
to arrange daily two-hour ceasefires, so far without success.
To further isolate Assad's government, the European Union
will impose more sanctions on Syria next week.
The bloody siege of parts of Homs has aroused widespread
international indignation, but the world has so far proved
powerless to alleviate the predicament of civilians there.
Footage shot by activists in Homs shows blasted buildings,
empty streets and doctors treating casualties in makeshift
clinics in Baba Amro after nearly three weeks of bombardment.
Several hundred people have been killed in Homs by troops
using artillery, tanks, rockets and sniper fire.
Residents fear Assad will subject the city to the same fate
his late father Hafez inflicted on Hama, where many thousands
were killed in the crushing of an armed Islamist revolt in 1982.
The state news agency SANA said three members of the
security forces were killed and seven wounded by a bomb planted
by "armed terrorists" near the city of Idlib. It also reported
the funerals of 16 security force members killed by rebels.
Assad has called a referendum on a new constitution on
Sunday, to be followed by a multi-party parliamentary election,
which he says is a response to calls for reform. The plan is
supported by his allies Russia and China but Western powers have
dismissed it and the Syrian opposition has called for a boycott.
(Additional reporting by Dominic Evans, Erika Solomon and
Mariam Karouny in Beirut, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Arshad
Mohammed in London and Don Durfee and Ben Blanchard in Beijing;
Writing by Alistair Lyon; Editing by Sophie Hares)