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Updated: Sunday, 01 Apr 2012, 12:41 PM MDT
Published : Sunday, 01 Apr 2012, 12:09 PM MDT
ISTANBUL, Turkey (CNN) -- The United States vowed to nearly double its funding to the Syrian opposition, and Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised the Syrian people "they will not be left alone" as leaders from around the world met to discuss ways to ramp up pressure on the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
But violence continued in Syria even as the Friends of Syria conference took place in Istanbul, and a Syrian opposition leader called on the international community to do more.
Aid worth about $30 million "is not enough," said Asib Shishakly of the Syrian National Council. "We know we have over a million people in need of aid. A million dollars daily minimum is needed."
"If we don't bring protection for the people inside Syria, it's like we didn't do anything," he said, calling for international support of the rebel Free Syrian Army, safe zones to protect people, and relief and medical support.
He warned that the opposition could not hold out forever if al-Assad did not make good soon on his promise to accept a peace plan by former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
"We cannot keep this thing going," he said. "So if we give a chance to the regime and we don't give a deadline to the Annan mission, then we're giving the Assad regime a chance to commit more killing, more torture."
The SNC is also asking the international community for financial support so it can pay a salary to fighters in the opposition Free Syrian Army.
The cost of the program is expected to be in the millions of dollars, conference participants said, with one of them adding that this could, in fact, increase the rate of defections which, in turn, could "contribute to the demoralization of the regime."
At the end of its conference on Sunday the Friends of Syria group recognized the SNC as a legitimate representative of the Syrian people, effectively declaring it the main opposition group the international community would work with.
The 83-member group also declared its "support for legitimate measures taken by the Syrian population to protect themselves" and called on Syrian forces not to obey "unlawful orders targeting the Syrian people."
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said sanctions were slowly beginning to have an effect on the Syrian leadership.
"Really increasing the enforcement of sanctions was one of the best" outcomes of the conference, she told CNN.
"The individual sanctions, you know the travel bans, the visa bans... are beginning to really wake people up. They're looking around thinking, 'For the rest of my life I'm only going to be able to go to Iran? That doesn't sound like a great idea,'" she said.
"The reserves of the country are being drawn down, marketplaces are not as full of goods," she said, even as she conceded that sanctions take time to bite, while violence in the country is "horrific."
Gunfire and explosions rocked the country even as the conference was taking place, with blasts killing at least nine people in the Daraa governorate, according to the opposition Local Coordination Committees in Syria.
In the suburbs of Damascus, explosions and gunfire erupted in the morning, the opposition activists said. Snipers targeted moving objects as security forces deployed tanks at various checkpoints, according to the group.
Speaking in Istanbul, Clinton announced an additional $12 million in U.S. aid to the Syrian opposition, nearly doubling the amount of American money pledged for humanitarian aid including field hospitals and medical training.
In a strongly-worded speech, Clinton accused al-Assad's troops of launching new assaults, tightening their siege of residential neighborhoods and crushing dozens of peaceful protests.
She said al-Assad was "adding to its long list of broken promises" by failing to implement the Annan peace plan.
The Friends of Syria group will work on coordinating sanctions against Syria "to isolate this regime, cut off its funds, and squeeze its ability to wage war on its own people," she said.
She said the message was clear: "Stop killing your fellow citizens or you will face serious consequences."
There was no mention of authorizing airstrikes targeting Syrian forces as some, such as U.S. Sen. John McCain, have requested.
Syrian State TV carried some of the Istanbul speeches live, labeling the meeting the "Conference of the enemies of Syria."
"It is great that the conference is taking place on April 1 because it is April Fools' Day," the Syrian news anchor said, accusing the attendees of serving Israeli interests and Erdogan of carrying out Clinton's bidding.
Small pro- and anti-regime demonstrations took place outside the conference center in Turkey, closely monitored by Turkish riot police.
Syrians started protests against the regime a year ago, and were met with a fierce government crackdown.
The United Nations estimates at least 1 million have been affected and more than 9,000 have died since the unrest
began. Opposition activists put the death toll at more than 10,000 people.
CNN cannot independently confirm reports from inside Syria because the government severely restricts access by international journalists.
Protesters have remained defiant in the uprising while soldiers have defected and taken up arms against former comrades, hoping to drive out the embattled leader through force.
To date, there has been no main opposition leader or group over the protesters, and there is little indication of a coherent plan for Syria should al-Assad and his regime fall.
The United States has urged the opposition to unite and highlighted the difficulty in achieving that goal.
The Friends of Syria conference comes after Annan urged the government to lay down its weapons as part of a peace plan to help end the yearlong crisis.
Last week, Al-Assad pledged to implement the peace plan brokered by Annan and vowed to "spare no effort" to ensure its success. However, he demanded that those battling his regime pledge to stop their violence too.
Annan's terms of the peace plan included an end to all violence by the government and opposition, the delivery of timely humanitarian aid, the release of arbitrarily detained people, freedom of movement for journalists, respect for peaceful demonstrations and freedom of association.