Foreign ministers from Western and Arab countries say a peace plan brokered by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan is the last chance for Syria to avoid civil war.
Diplomatic efforts to end the violence in Syria continuedon Thursday with the foreign ministers from the group of 14 Western and Arab countries known as the "Friends of Syria" gathering in Paris.
The verdict reached appeared to be unanimous, with a draft statement obtained by the Reuters news agency describing a a peace plan brokered by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan is the last chance for Syria to avoid all-out civil war.
"Every day that passes means dozens of new Syrian civilian deaths," the draft said. "It is not time to prevaricate. It is time to act."
However the statement did not refer to any specific possible measures, saying only that if the peace plan failed, “the UN Security Council and international community would have to look at other options."
Also on Thursday, the UN Security Council was meeting in New York to discuss expanding a monitoring mission to the country.
Observer mission agreement
The two meetings came just hours after Damascus and the UN-Arab League peace envoy for Syria, Kofi Annan, announced that they had reached an agreement on the terms of the observer mission.
“This preliminary agreement… aims to facilitate the task of the observers within the framework of Syrian sovereignty," a statement released by the Syrian Foreign Ministry said.
A statement from Kofi Annan's spokesman said the agreement outlined "the functions of the observers as they fulfil their mandate in Syria and the tasks and responsibilities of the Syrian government."
The spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi, said Annan's team was holding "similar discussions" with members of the opposition, both armed and civilian groups.
Despite this agreement signed on Thursday, a dispute was brewing about how big the observer mission should be.
More observers needed
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon used a letter to the Security Council to call for it to approve an expanded mission of 300 observers for an initial three-month period. He argued that 250 weren't sufficient to monitor the fragile cease-fire. So far the Security Council has approved a mission of just 30 monitors.
At the same time, though, the secretary-general noted that Syria had so far failed to fully comply with the terms of the cease-fire agreement brokered by Annan. This has led some Security Council members to express doubts about whether they could support an expanded mission.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem, on the other hand, indicated that Damascus may not be prepared to accept the higher figure, describing 250 as a "reasonable number."
In Syria itself, the violence continued despite the truce. The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported at least three people killed on Thursday. Such figures cannot be independently verified due to a lack of access to the country by foreign journalists.
pfd/mz (Reuters, AFP, AP)