Syria toll mounts amid Russian veto threat

Fate of Arab League-backed Security Council resolution in the balance as scores are reported dead in fresh violence.

    Fresh bloodshed has been reported from Syria after Western powers and the Arab League demanded immediate UN action to stop what it called the Syrian government's "killing machine", and Russia responded by threatening to veto any proposal it deemed unacceptable.

    The disagreement at the UN came as clashes were reported across Syria's flashpoint regions, leaving at least 68 people dead, mostly civilians, according to the Local Co-ordination Committees (LCC), an opposition group monitoring the uprising.

    The group said on Wednesday that two women, two children and 14 fighters of the self-proclaimed Free Syrian Army were among the dead.

    At least 35 of the deaths occurred in Wady Barada, a Damascus suburb; another 14 in Homs; eight in Daraa; and three in Idlib, the LCC said.

    Some activists said on Wednesday that violence had claimed nearly 200 lives across Syria over the previous three days. The figures could not be independently confirmed.

    On the diplomatic front, the US secretary of state, backed by her French and British counterparts, led a push on Tuesday for a tough UN resolution that would call on President Bashar al-Assad to end the bloodshed and hand over power.

    "We all know that change is coming to Syria. Despite its ruthless tactics, the Assad regime's reign of terror will end," Hillary Clinton told the Security Council.

    "The question for us is: How many more innocent civilians will die before this country is able to move forward?"

    Qatar's appeal

    Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, the Qatari prime minister, speaking at the same Security Council debate on behalf of the Arab League, said Assad's government 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.

    However, Russia, a longstanding ally of Assad and one of the government's main suppliers of weapons, has appeared to rule out the possibility of a quick vote.

    Al Jazeera's James Bays reports on the growing diplomatic clout of Qatar in the Middle East

    "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," the Interfax news agency quoted the Russian deputy foreign minister, Gennady Gatilov, as saying on Wednesday.

    "Therefore there is going to be no vote in the next days."

    Russia has declared that the Security Council does not have the authority to impose a resolution that called for regime change in Syria, a position supported by China.

    "If the text is unacceptable then we will vote against," Vitaly Churkin, Russia's ambassador to the UN, 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.

    However, Alain Juppe, the French foreign minister, said in Paris on Wednesday that Russia had a "less negative" attitude towards a Security Council resolution.

    "For the first time, the attitude of Russia and the BRICS [China, India and South Africa on the Security Council] is less negative," he said.

    Arab League's demand

    The draft resolution, introduced by Arab League member 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.

    Analysts say that the Syrian conflict, between an armed movement backed by growing numbers of army defectors and a government increasingly dependent on use of force, has largely eclipsed the peaceful protests seen at the start of the uprising.

    The Free Syrian Army's Turkey-based commander, Colonel Riyadh al-Asaad, has told the AFP news agency that half of the country was now effectively a no-go zone for the security forces.

    France said on Wednesday that 6,000 people had been killed since the beginning of the Syrian uprising nearly 11 months ago.

    The UN human-rights chief, Navi Pillay, said on January 25 that her organisation had stopped counting the dead from Syria's security crackdown because it was too difficult to get information.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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