The United Nations Security Council has postponed until Thursday a vote on a Western-backed resolution that threatens Syrian authorities with sanctions in a bid to end the 16-month conflict, Russia's UN envoy said.
"A possible vote has been postponed until tomorrow morning," Vitaly Churkin, the Russian ambassador, told reporters on Wednesday after a meeting of the envoys of the council's five permanent members, adding that further talks on the measure would be held.
International envoy Kofi Annan had requested the delay amid differences between Moscow and the resolutions Western sponsors over whether Damascus should be threatened with sanctions.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon urged the council to "shoulder its responsibility and take collective and effective action".
"Time is of the essence. The Syrian people have suffered for too long. The bloodshed must end now," Ban said in a statement.
Russia has vowed to veto the resolution drawn up by Britain, with the backing of France, United States, Germany and Portugal. The resolution proposes non-military sanctions under Chapter VII of the UN Charter if President Bashar al-Assad does not halt the use of heavy weapons within 10 days of a resolution being passed.
Russia accused the West of inciting the Syrian opposition after the defence minister and Assad's brother-in-law were reportedly killed in a bomb attack, arguing that a proposed UN resolution amounted to support for the rebels and would lead to more bloodshed.
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"Instead of calming the opposition down, some of our partners are inciting it to go on," Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, was quoted as saying by the RIA Novosti news agency on Wednesday.
Supporting the Syrian opposition "is a dead-end policy, because Assad is not leaving voluntarily", he said.
Despite the probable delay in the vote, there was no sign that Russia has withdrawn its veto threat. "We cannot accept Chapter VII and the section about sanctions," Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said in Moscow on Wednesday.
'Need to act'
Foreign ministers from the five permanent Security Council members - Russia, the United States, France, Britain and China - were still negotiating the future of the resolution, diplomats said.
The mandate of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) ends on Friday and without a resolution the UN may have to hurriedly withdraw the nearly 300 unarmed observers now in Damascus.
Russia, Assad's main ally, and China have vetoed two council resolutions which just hinted at sanctions.
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More than 17,000 people have been killed since a popular uprising against Assad began 16 months ago, activists have said.
"Decisions should be taken by people in Syria, the Syrian people," Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, said during a press conference in Moscow with Russia's President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday.
"This process being prolonged is resulting in more and more massacres being committed by Assad, just like his father."
Following the Russia-Turkey press conference, Al Jazeera's Jennifer Glasse noted that both Russia and Turkey had said that they were backing the option preferred by the Syrian people.
"Russia believes what the people want is no intervention," she said. "Russia is very clear that it wants its resolution passed, and that it will not back any resolution that will impose sanctions."