TUNIS  - Foreign powers are turning a blind eye to weapons purchases by Syrian exiles who are already smuggling light arms, communications equipment and night vision goggles to rebels inside Syria, a Syrian opposition source said on Friday.

Syrian opposition supporters were also trying to bring anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons to the Free Syrian Army rebels, and to get retired Syrian officers into the country to help coordinate military opposition to President Bashar al-Assad.

The source was speaking at a meeting of Western and Arab nations which will demand that, in the absence of international resolve to intervene to end Assad’s crackdown, Syria allow aid to be delivered to civilians caught in fighting. “We are bringing in defensive and offensive weapons... It is coming from everywhere, including Western countries and it is not difficult to get anything through the borders,” the source told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“There is not a decision by any country to arm the rebels but countries are allowing Syrians to buy weapons and send them into the country.”

Foreign ministers from more than 50 countries were in Tunis for the first meeting of the “Friends of Syria” group, against the backdrop of a surge in government attacks on the city of Homs and mounting world outrage over violence that has claimed thousands of lives during the uprising. Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani said an Arab force should be created to impose peace and open humanitarian corridors in Syria, while Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby urged the UN Security Council to appeal for a ceasefire. In Homs, Syrian government artillery fire killed five people in the city’s Baba Amro district, opposition activists said, as the bombardment of opposition-held neighborhoods entered its fourth week on Friday.

“Baba Amro is being hit with 122mm artillery directed at it from surrounding villages. A father and his 14-year-old son were among those killed. They were trying to flee the shelling when shrapnel hit them in the street,” Mohammad al-Homsi said. Activists said Syrian security forces also lined up and shot dead at least 18 people in a village in the central western Hama province. A video uploaded by activists showed people wrapping the bloodied bodies of children and at least four adults. Several had been shot through the head.

The French, British and Polish embassies in Damascus were scrambling on Friday to try to evacuate two Western journalists wounded in Syria and the bodies of two others, a Western diplomat told AFP.

“The embassies of France, Britain and Poland are working closely together to evacuate the wounded and the bodies of the two journalists who were killed” in the flashpoint central city of Homs, the diplomat said.

Veteran US journalist Marie Colvin, working for Britain’s The Sunday Times, and French photojournalist Remi Ochlik, with the IP3 Press agency, were killed on Wednesday when a rocket hit a makeshift media centre in the Baba Amr rebel district of Homs.

Edith Bouvier, a reporter for French daily Le Figaro and Sunday Times photographer Paul Conroy were wounded. Both have leg injuries. The Polish embassy, which has represented US interests in Syria since Washington closed its Damascus embassy for security reasons, is involved in measures to evacuate Colvin’s body, the diplomat said.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe “solemnly” urged Syria to allow for the evacuation of the wounded journalists, as he arrived in Tunis on Friday for an international meeting on Syria.

Earlier, the French embassy said that Ambassador Eric Chevallier had returned to his post, more than two weeks after being recalled by Paris in response to the Syrian regime’s crackdown on dissent.

An embassy spokesman told AFP that Chevallier returned to Damascus on Thursday night but declined to say if his return was related to efforts to evacuate the wounded journalists and the bodies of those killed.

Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki told a conference on Syria Friday that President Bashar al-Assad and his family should be granted immunity from prosecution.

“A political solution must be found, such as granting the Syrian president, his family and members of his regime judicial immunity and a place to seek refuge, which Russia could offer,” he said.