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Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich back arming Syria's rebels

NBC's Richard Engel reports on the tense situation in Syria where an American reporter and French photojournalist were recently killed.

U.S. Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich lent their support to the idea of arming the Syrian opposition in its fight to topple President Bashar Assad, as a group of more than 70 countries prepared to discuss the crisis.

Romney and Gingrich, speaking in Wednesday night's GOP presidential candidate debate, both advocated helping the rebels to defend themselves.


On Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton heads to Tunisia for a meeting of the Friends of Syria group of countries to look at ways to assist Assad's opponents, which now include hundreds of defected military officers and soldiers.

Assad's tanks move in to Syria rebel stronghold

The Times newspaper in the U.K., which operates behind a paywall, said the group would discuss a plan to set up a humanitarian zone along Syria's border with Turkey to protect protesters and also consider proposals to create aid corridors and send protected medical convoys into Syria to treat the wounded.

Marie Colvin, an American-born war reporter for The Sunday Times newspaper in the U.K. and a French photographer, Remi Ochlik, have been killed in Syria. ITN's Tim Ewart has a clip from one of Colvin's last reports.

The Times said the group's priority was to persuade Assad's regime to agree to a two-hour cease-fire every day in the city of Homs.

On Wednesday, Syrian government forces killed more than 80 people in assaults on villages and an artillery barrage on the restive city of Homs, including two Western journalists, American reporter Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik.

Journalist needs urgent medical care
Syrian activists said at least two other Western journalists — French reporter Edith Bouvier of Le Figaro and British photographer Paul Conroy of the Sunday Times — were wounded in Wednesday's shelling.

Amateur video posted online showed Bouvier and Conroy in a makeshift clinic.

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Bouvier had her left leg tied from the thigh down in a cast. A doctor in the video explained that she needed emergency medical care. Conroy appeared in the video and the doctors said he had deep gashes in his left leg.

A statement by Syria's Information Minister Adnan Mahmoud said there was "no information" about Colvin, Ochlik and other foreign journalists in Syria who entered without official permission, the state-run news agency SANA reported.

NBC's Richard Engel answers reader questions about Syria

It warned all foreign journalists to come forward to "regularize their status."

Speaking at a CNN debate in Mesa, Arizona, Romney said the United States needed to team up with allies to help the rebels.

American, French journalists killed in Syria

"We need to work with Saudi Arabia and with Turkey to say, 'You guys provide the kind of weaponry that's needed to help the rebels inside Syria,'" the former Massachusetts governor said.

The Republican seen most likely to face President Barack Obama in November's presidential election, Romney said such support was needed to turn Syria away from Iran at a critical time when Tehran was possibly trying to develop nuclear weapons.

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"If we can turn Syria and Lebanon away from Iran, we finally have the capacity to get Iran to pull back," Romney said. He added that the United States should make it clear that military action would be taken if Iran pursued nuclear weapons.

Gingrich slams Obama
Speaking at the debate, Gingrich said that U.S. allies — which he did not name — were covertly helping destroy the Assad regime, and that there were weapons available in the region to arm the opposition.

"There are plenty of Arab-speaking groups that would be quite happy. There are lots of weapons available in the Middle East," he said, taking a swipe at the Obama administration's policy on Syria.

"This is an administration which, as long as you're America's enemy, you're safe. You know, the only people you've got to worry about is if you're an American ally."

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The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.