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Cease-fire ultimatum to be given to Assad

The United States, Europe and Arab nations are preparing to demand that Syrian President Bashar Assad agree within days to a cease-fire and allow humanitarian aid into areas hardest hit by his regime's brutal crackdown on opponents.

U.N.-appointed investigators in Geneva said a list for possible crimes against humanity prosecution reaches as high as Assad, and U.S., European and Arab officials were meeting in London on Thursday to craft details of an ultimatum to Assad that diplomats said could demand compliance within 72 hours or result in additional as-yet-unspecified punitive measures, likely to include toughened sanctions.

The ultimatum is to be presented at a major international conference on Syria set for today in Tunisia.

American officials accompanying U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to the Tunis meeting of the "Friends of Syria" said the goal is to make it clear to Assad that his regime has a moral obligation to end the shelling of civilian areas and allow assistance into the country.

Clinton met Thursday in London with foreign ministers and senior officials from about a dozen countries, including Britain, France, Germany, Jordan, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates. More than 70 nations and international organizations are expected at the Tunis meeting.

"The efforts that we are undertaking with the international community are intended to demonstrate the Assad regime's deepening isolation," Clinton told reporters. "Our immediate focus is on increasing the pressure. We have got to find ways of getting food, medicine and other humanitarian assistance into affected areas. This takes time and it takes a lot of diplomacy."

Meanwhile, former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan was appointed the joint United Nations-Arab League envoy on the Syrian crisis.

Annan's successor, Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and Arab League Secretary-General Nabil ElAraby announced the appointment ahead of today's conference in Tunis.

The statement said Annan will work with parties inside and outside Syria to end the violence and the humanitarian crisis and facilitate "a peaceful Syrian-led and inclusive political solution that meets the democratic aspirations of the Syrian people through a comprehensive political dialogue between the Syrian government and the whole spectrum of the Syrian opposition."

In the besieged Syrian city of Homs, the opposition stronghold was being destroyed "inch by inch," by government forces, with collapsed walls and scorched buildings, according to accounts Thursday.

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