Deaths mount as Russia resists UN drive on Syria
* Russian envoy says resolution must reject armed intervention
* Russia, China vetoed Western-backed resolution last year
DAMASCUS: Fresh bloodshed swept Syria on Wednesday after the West and the Arab League demanded immediate UN action to stop the regime’s “killing machine” but holdout Russia vowed to veto any “unacceptable” proposal.
Wrangling at the United Nations came as fierce clashes raged across Syria, killing 59 people, mostly civilians, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The Britain-based monitoring group said the heaviest toll was registered in the province of Damascus, where 24 civilians were killed.
Fifteen soldiers were reported killed in the central city of Homs and six army deserters in the capital itself.
There were also reports of fierce fighting between the army and dissidents in Damascus, Homs and Idlib provinces. Syria’s Al-Watan newspaper gave a rundown of dozens of deaths in clashes in Homs and elsewhere in central Syria over the past two days.
It said 37 rebels were killed in the Homs district, four soldiers in an attack on a checkpoint in Bab Dreib and 15 rebels and two members of the security forces in clashes in Rastan, another central town.
Against that background, the rebel Free Syrian Army’s Turkey-based commander Colonel Riyadh al-Asaad told AFP that half of the country was now effectively a no-go zone for the security forces.
Activists said the unrest had killed nearly 200 people over the previous three days, while France said 6,000 people had lost their lives since the beginning of the uprising nearly 11 months ago.
The French figure comes after UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said last week that her organisation had stopped counting the dead because it was too difficult to get information.
In January, UN data showed more than 5,400 people killed in Syria since the uprising began in mid-March.
In New York, Western diplomats were to try again on Wednesday to persuade Russia to back a tough UN Security Council resolution condemning the violence, and UN ambassadors were expected to hold a two- to three-hour meeting, diplomats told AFP.
“We can hope that Russia has understood the message but for now there is no notable progress,” a diplomat told AFP, while noting “some slight signs” of flexibility from Moscow.
Earlier on Wednesday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov appeared to snuff out any hopes of a quick vote.
“Attempts are being made to find a text that is acceptable to all sides and would help find a political solution for the situation in Syria. Therefore, there is going to be no vote in the next days,” he told Interfax news agency.
The draft resolution introduced by Morocco calls for the formation of a unity government leading to “transparent and free elections”.
It stresses that there will be no foreign military intervention in Syria as there was in Libya, which helped to topple Muammar Gaddafi.
In Rabat, Foreign Minister Youssef Amrani said on Wednesday that Morocco was committed with all the partners to achieving a consensus on the resolution.
“What is important today is to stop the violence and support the Arab plan which will allow us to stabilise the country,” Amrani was quoted by the official MAP news agency as saying.
On Tuesday, Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al-Thani told the UN Security Council that Assad’s regime had “failed to make any sincere effort” to end the crisis and believed the only solution was “to kill its own people”.
“Bloodshed continued and the killing machine is still at work,” he said. Russia, a long-standing ally of Assad and one of his top arms suppliers, has declared that the UN body does not have the authority to impose a resolution that calls for regime change in Syria, a position supported by China.
“If the text is unacceptable then we will vote against,” Russia’s UN envoy Vitaly Churkin was quoted as saying by the RIA Novosti news agency.
Russia would not approve a text it viewed as “incorrect” and would “lead to a deepening of the conflict”, he said.
But French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Russia had a “less negative” attitude towards a Security Council resolution.
Analysts warn that the conflict, between a guerrilla movement and a regime increasingly bent on repression, has largely eclipsed the peaceful protests seen at the start of the uprising. “It is the beginning of an all-out armed conflict,” said Joshua Landis, head of the Centre for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma. afp