By Jill Dougherty
A leading member of the Syrian opposition says their leaders, who hope to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton later this week, will request more assistance as the siege by Bashar al-Assad's government continues.
Leaders of the Syrian National Council, the largest opposition group, will attend the "Friends of Syria" meeting in Istanbul this weekend. The meeting, a follow-up to an earlier gathering in Tunisia, will focus on ways to put a stop to the carnage in Syria and support a transition to democracy.
Representatives from 60 countries are invited.
Clinton will travel to Istanbul from Saudi Arabia, where she is scheduled to meet with King Abdullah to discuss a range of issues, including the situation in Syria.
The Syrian opposition is expected to make a presentation outlining attempts to unite the various factions of the movement and how the international community can help.
Radwan Ziadeh, a visiting scholar at George Washington University, tells CNN the activists will ask for three things:
1. The implementation of a safe zone on the Syrian side of the border with Turkey.
2. The establishment of a no-fly zone over the safe zone.
3. Arms for the Free Syrian Army, an opposition group inside Syria comprised mainly of former government soldiers who defected to the opposition.
Previously, the United States has made it clear it will provide only nonlethal assistance such as communications equipment and medical supplies to the FSA. But Ziadeh says the United States "can give the green light" to other countries such as Qatar to provide arms. He says the crucial weapons needed are antitank weapons.
Support for such assistance to the opposition is growing on Capitol Hill. Sens. John McCain, R-Arizona; Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina; and Joseph Lieberman, I-Connecticut have called for foreign airpower to stop the government "slaughter" and save innocent lives.
The lawmakers introduced a resolution in Congress that calls for providing weapons and other material support to the Syrian opposition.
The Obama administration has pointed to the disparate nature of the Syrian opposition as a concern when it comes to extending U.S. assistance. Senior officials have said elements of al Qaeda could be exploiting the situation to sow chaos in the region.
The opposition "must be able to clearly demonstrate a commitment to including all Syrians and protecting the rights of all Syrians," Clinton told reporters earlier this week. "We are going to be pushing them very hard to present such a vision in Istanbul. So, we have a lot of work to do."