Grand Mufti Hassoun, whose 22-year-old son was recently assassinated in Syria, is a supporter of Bashar al-Assad.
Russia and China have joined forces to veto a European-drafted UN Security Council resolution condemning Syria and hinting that it could face sanctions if it continues its crackdown on protesters.
Tuesday’s resolution received nine votes in favour and four abstentions from Brazil, India, Lebanon and South Africa. Russia and China cast the only votes against the resolution, which was drafted by France with the co-operation of Britain, Germany and Portugal.
Western nations have been pressing for the adoption of the resolution condemning Syria’s crackdown on anti-government protests.
The resolution sought to impose “targeted measures” against the government of Bashar al-Assad for a crackdown that has killed 2,700 people, according to UN estimates.
Vitaly Churkin, the Russian ambassador, told the council that Moscow’s veto reflected “a conflict of political approaches” between Russia and the European council members.
Churkin said that Moscow was firmly opposed to the threat of sanctions against Damascus, adding that what he described as the confrontational approach of the European delegations was “against the peaceful settlement of the crisis.”
He reiterated his concerns that passing the European resolution on Syria could have opened the door to a Libya-style military intervention in the Syrian authorities’ six-month crackdown on anti-government demonstrations there.
Churkin said, however, that Russia would prefer it if Syria was “quicker with implementing the promised changes”. He was referring to President Assad’s promised democratic reforms.
Li Baodong, the Chinese ambassador, said that his country opposed the idea of “interference in [Syria’s] internal affairs”.
“We cannot today doubt the meaning of this veto of this text,” Gerard Araud, the French ambassador, told the 15-nation council. “This is not a matter of wording. It is a political choice. It is a refusal of all resolutions of the council against Syria.”
“This veto will not stop us,” he said. “No veto can give carte blanche to the Syrian authorities.”
The US expressed “outrage” at the failure to pass the resolution and its ambassador walked out of the chamber in protest at a speech by Syria’s envoy.
“The United States is outraged that this council has utterly failed to address an urgent moral challenge and a growing threat to regional peace and security,” Susan Rice, the US ambassador, said, condemning countries that “would rather sell arms to the Syrian regime”.
For months, Russia, China, Brazil, India and South Africa – the BRICS countries – have criticised the US and European council members for allegedly allowing NATO to overstep its Security Council mandate to protect civilians in Libya.
“The message in the veto by Russia and China is that they don’t want to encourage further polarisation in Syria. They believe there is room for dialogue and diplomacy,” Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst, said.
“Russia and China believe Europe and the US misused and abused UN resolution 1973 concerning Libya. Both countries are angry [over] the way it was implemented in Libya, and that’s certainly backfiring and overspilling in the case of Syria.
“Europe spearheaded the resolution and the US backed it. It is supposed to have solicited others to act. It’s clear they have got their fingers burnt a number of times in the past and the buzzword in Washington is ‘leading from behind’.”
Al Jazeera’s Kristen Saloomey, reporting from New York, said the veto was a resounding defeat for the Europeans and also the US, which backed the draft.
“Both the countries [China and Russia] say the way UN resolution went forward basically would encourage more divisions in Syria,” she said.
“They are willing to negotiate and they have their own draft which calls for cessation of violence on all sides and for the sides to come together for a “Syrian-led process” to work on some sort of resolution to the crisis in Syria without outside intervention. It can be seen as a backlash to the UN resolution on Libya.
Meanwhile, according to the Britain-based organisation, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least nine people were killed on Tuesday in Syria.
Four died in clashes near the border with Turkey between troops and deserters unwilling to shoot at protesters and the others in central Homs province, the rights group said.