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02/02/2012 Share/Save/Bookmark
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UNSC on Syria (UN)
UNSC on Syria (UN)

Syria Violence grows as UN debate


UNITED NATIONS- Diplomats claimed considerable progress Wednesday toward overcoming Russian objections to the U.N. Security Council resolution. The UN Security Council resolution aimed to halt all kinds of violence in Syria immediately, and also demands that President Bashar al-Assad step aside.

Going into Wednesday's discussions, Europeans on the Security Council took a softer line on Moscow than the U.S. has, arguing that Russia was open to reaching a deal on a resolution. Diplomats told press that second issue which demands President al-Assad to step down has been remained a major sticking point.

Following a closed-door meeting, several diplomats said they were encouraged by a new constructive attitude in discussions and some held out the possibility of a vote before by Friday. United Nations Security Council appeared to potentially bridge some differences with Russia after Moscow earlier threatened to veto a resolution it said called for regime change and didn't rule out foreign military intervention.

Western diplomats insist the U.N. resolution be based on an Arab League peace plan calling for President al-Assad to step down, allowing for the formation of a new government. The plan also calls on President al-Assad’s regime, which has been using police and the military to put down an uprising for the past 10 months, to end the violence.

U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice, reflecting Washington's more-skeptical view of Moscow's flexibility, said, "[Wednesday's] discussions were conducted in a constructive, roll-up-your-sleeves manner, and if that continues there is a possibility we will reach agreement, but there is no certainty. These are tough issues of interests and principle that still divide the council."

Rice said the call for Assad to step aside remained “one of the more difficult issues.”

“There’s no certainty. These are tough issues,” Rice said, adding that a “constructive and roll-up-your-sleeves manner” during the session gave her hope for eventual agreement on a resolution being drafted by Morocco.

“We’re not talking weeks, but we’re not talking tomorrow,” she said.

British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said new language had been proposed on Wednesday to bridge differences with Russia over foreign military intervention, the removal of President Assad during a transition to democratic elections, as well as clarification on the resolution's threat of sanctions if Syria doesn't comply in 15 days.

“We are still looking for a vote this week,” British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said. “But there are a lot of difficult issues and we are not there yet.”

Ambassadors from India, Germany and other countries said they expected Morocco, the resolution’s key sponsor, to prepare a new draft for discussion by council members on Thursday.

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin also sounded upbeat, saying: “I think we have a much better understanding of what we need to do to reach consensus.”

Russia's U.N. ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, said of the proposed resolution, "We are discussing new language and I think they have a better understanding of what we want."

He told reporters on his way into the Security Council that new language about Mr. Assad stepping aside "would make it easier for us" to accept the resolution. Russia also wants clearer language prohibiting outside military intervention. The draft now stresses that "nothing in this resolution compels states to resort to the use of force or the threat of force."

For his part, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday in Jerusalem "We cannot wait any longer until the political process is finished while many people are being killed. First, all violence must stop, and I sincerely hope this will lead to a political solution. That is what I am urging to the international community."

Russia and China used a double veto in October to block an earlier Security Council resolution condemning the violence in Syria.

Syria was long a foothold for Soviet influence in the Middle East. It is a major arms buyer from Russia, which maintains a naval base in Tartous on the Syrian coast.

Inside country, Syrian troops continued Wednesday to push back dissident soldiers in the Damascus suburbs. Government forces battled defected soldiers from the Free Syrian Army and the armed opposition fighters backing them in the hills around the capital and the adjacent Wadi Barada valley.

Activists told international press and media outlets that residents reported shelling and heavy shooting for most of the day.

For its part, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based group, reported 24 people killed in neighboring towns, including at least six army defectors. Closer to Damascus, security forces conducted home raids in the suburb of Moadamiya, in some cases coming in with lists of wanted activists, other activist groups said.

In turn, the Local Coordination Committees, a grass-roots activist network, said it had recorded 7,100 deaths since the uprising started in March, including 461 children. Of the total, 2,454 were in the besieged city of Homs, an opposition stronghold that has come under renewed military attack in the past two weeks.

Heavy casualties were also reported in Hama, "which continues to pay the price for its dignity since 1982," the group said. That year, the country's former leader Havez al-Assad -President Bashar al-Assad's father- led a military campaign against an Islamist insurgency that culminated in an attack on the city of Hama that left between 10,000 and 40,000 people dead, Syrian and international rights groups estimate.

Protests appeared larger and energized on Wednesday as activists prepared to mark the 30th anniversary of what they call "the Hama massacre" starting Thursday. They planned protests and sit-ins in Hama, with nationwide protests called in solidarity with the city, where government troops have repeatedly cracked down on swelling protests.

But activists also said they were largely disappointed with Tuesday's Security Council session, where they said Syrian ally Russia didn't appear to ease its objections to any U.N. action that would condemn or censure the regime, despite meetings with Russian diplomats.

Others were more hopeful that the renewed vigor over Syria at the U.N. meant the diplomatic path wasn't totally blocked.

The Syrian National Council, (SNC) a leading opposition group, leadership has been in talks with Arab, Western and Russian diplomats at the U.N. this week. The group's president, Burhan Ghalioun, has assured Russian diplomats in private meetings that Russian interests in Syria won't be harmed under a new leadership, council members said.

The UN says more than 5,000 people have been killed since protests against the government of President Bashar al-Assad first erupted last March.
Syrian officials say about 2,000 members of the security forces have been killed in the unrest, which has become increasingly violent as defectors from the army join the opposition. These claims have not been independently verified.

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