Russia has proposed a draft resolution on the violence in Syria to the UN Security Council that would strongly condemn violence by "all parties, including disproportionate use of force by Syrian authorities".
Western members of the council who have been pressing for tough measures against President Bashar al-Assad's government welcomed the move, but said it did not go far enough because it stopped short of including an arms embargo or other sanctions.
The draft called on all parties in Syria to "immediately stop any violence irrespective of where it comes from".
Vitaly Churkin, the Russian ambassador to the UN, told Al Jazeera that Russia believed there had been "considerable excesses" by some Syrian forces dealing with demonstrators.
However, he also said "extreme elements" had exploited protests and used demonstrators as "human shields" in order to attack police and security forces.
"We do believe that it's not only the authorities but also extremist opposition forces who are causing damage and killing people so that is reflected in our draft," he said.
"In the end, we want to have a strong statement in favour of stopping violence, upholding human rights, expediting reforms including constitutional reforms and encourage the Arab League to play a constructive, positive and peaceful role."
Al Jazeera's Rula Amin said from Beirut that the wording of Russia's draft resolution made it clear it was keen to ensure foreign military intervention should not take place.
"One of the provisions says that 'nothing in this resolution shall be interpreted as an authorisation of any sort of military interference in Syria in the future'," she said.
"So the Russians want to make sure that if there is a resolution at the UN, it doesn't come to military interference."
"They want this to be resolved peacefully, through dialogue, and dialogue with the government," said Amin. "They still believe that this government is a government that they can deal with."
Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said on Thursday that Washington hoped it could work with Russia on the draft resolution despite differences with Moscow on the issue.
Clinton said it was the "first time" that Russia had recognised that violence in Syria needed to be taken up by the Security Council.
"There are some issues in it that we would not be able to support. There's unfortunately a seeming parity between the government and peaceful protesters," she said.
"But we are going to study the draft carefully. It will have to be shared with the Arab League, which has taken the lead on the response to what's going on in Syria."
Vitaly Churkin, Russia's UN envoy, talks to Al Jazeera
about the draft resolution
Gerard Araud, the French ambassador to the UN, also welcomed the resolution, saying it was "an extraordinary event".
"Russia has decided to move on the resolution project... We think that it is because Russia has felt the pressure of the international community," he told journalists.
As a key ally of Assad, Russia has tried to head off Security Council intervention in the crisis. Russia and China vetoed a resolution in October condemning the government crackdown on protests.
The UN estimates that more than 5,000 people have been killed since the uprising began in March.
The latest political development came as a UK-based rights group reported that at least 27 soldiers and security personnel were killed in a series of clashes with army deserters in Syria's southern province of Deraa.
The clashes occurred early on Thursday at two locations in the city of Deraa itself, as well as a checkpoint at a crossroads outside the city, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.
In other parts of the country, the Local Co-ordination Committees activist network reported that four people were killed in the central province of Homs, two in the northwestern province of Idlib, one in Damascus suburbs, one in the eastern province of Hassake and one in the central province of Hama.
'Crimes against humanity'
Also on Thursday, Human Rights Watch released a report naming 74 commanders and military and intelligence officials as having allegedly "ordered, authorised, or condoned widespread killings, torture, and unlawful arrests" during the uprising.
In-depth coverage of escalating violence across Syria
In Istanbul, dissidents announced the creation of the Al-Leqaa opposition movement with the goal of toppling Assad's government.
The Syrian National Council (SNC), the main opposition bloc, welcomed Al-Leqaa as one of its components.
The SNC holds a three-day congress in Tunisia from Friday, with its leader saying he expected the Security Council to adopt an Arab League blueprint for peace.
"I hope that before too long we will succeed in persuading the Security Council to adopt the Arab League plan and provide the international protection for civilians that we have been demanding," Burhan Ghalioun said.