IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

UN Security Council weighs action on Syria

/ Source: news services

The Security Council began closed-door negotiations Friday on a new Arab-European draft resolution aimed at resolving the crisis in Syria, but Russia's envoy said he could not back the current language as it stands.

Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters afterward that the text introduced by new Arab Security Council member Morocco has "red lines" for Moscow, but he's willing to "engage" with the resolution's sponsors.

Churkin said those lines include any indication of sanctions, including an arms embargo. "We need to concentrate on establishing political dialogue," he said.

British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant later insisted that the text based on the Arab League's recent recommendations for Syria contains no mention of an arms embargo or any other sanctions, and that it received broad support from other council members. "A lot of straw men are being put up," he said.

"We want, as do the Arabs, an unanimous resolution," Lyall Grant said. "Frankly, the time has come where we should be supporting the Arab League efforts."

The U.N. says at least 5,400 people have been killed in a monthslong Syrian government crackdown on civilian protests.

At least 384 children have been killed and virtually the same number have been jailed, the United Nations Children's Fund said. UNICEF spokeswoman Marixie Mercado told Reuters the figures were based on reports by human rights organizations which it judged to be credible.

European diplomats have been meeting this week with diplomats from Arab countries, including Morocco and Qatar, on a resolution that would strongly back an Arab League bid to end the crisis.

French Ambassador Gerard Araud told reporters he expected that a "very determined negotiation process" on the text would start at the ambassador level on Wednesday, one day after the Arab League secretary-general and Qatar's prime minister brief the council on the situation in Syria.

"There is now a chance that the Security Council will finally take a clear stand on Syria. That is long overdue," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Friday at the General Affairs Council in Brussels. The comments were provided by the German mission to journalists at the U.N.

"We hope now that council members will seize this new window of opportunity and find common ground," German Ambassador Peter Wittig said before the council met behind closed doors.

But, as Churkin indicated, eventual approval is far from guaranteed.

Permanent council members Russia and China used their veto powers last fall to block an earlier European resolution on Syria. On Friday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov was quoted by the ITAR-Tass news agency as saying Moscow will oppose the new draft U.N. resolution on Syria because it fails to take Kremlin's concerns into account.

South African Ambassador Baso Sangqu said it was important that supporters of the resolution assure other countries, including his, that the draft was not a plan for regime change.

Russia and some other countries believe NATO misused last year's Security Council's resolutions on Libya as a pretext for regime change in that nation.

Syria's U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari expressed his country's opposition to the new draft resolution saying that "Syria will not be Libya."

Russia has been a strong ally of Syria since Soviet times, when the country was led by the president's father Hafez Assad, and has long supplied Syria with aircraft, missiles, tanks and other modern weapons.

The new Arab-European draft resolution on Syria, obtained by The Associated Press, expresses support of the Arab League's Jan. 22 decision "to facilitate a political transition leading to a democratic, plural political system."

The draft does not explicitly mention sanctions, but calls for the adoption of unspecified "further measures, in consultation with the League of Arab States," if Syria does not comply within 15 days.

The draft also condemns the "continued widespread and gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms by the Syrian authorities" and demands that the Syrian government immediately stop all human rights violations.

The Arab League earlier this month sent observers to Syria, but the mission was widely criticized for failing to stop the violence. Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia pulled out of the mission Tuesday, asking the Security Council to intervene because the Syrian government has not halted its crackdown.

The head of Arab League observers in Syria said in a statement that violence in the country has spiked over the past few days. Sudanese Gen. Mohammed Ahmed al-Dabi said the cities of Homs, Hama and Idlib have all witnessed a "very high escalation" in violence since Tuesday.

Meanwhile, militiamen loyal to Assad killed at least 10 people on Friday in Syria's main commercial and industrial hub of Aleppo after pro-democracy demonstrations erupted in the city and broke months of quiet, activists said.

The killings, the deadliest in the city during the 10-month uprising against 41 years of Assad family rule, occurred in the tribal Marjeh neighborhood after security forces fired at a rally demanding Assad's removal, they said.

Some activists said the 10 killed were all demonstrators while others said most were killed in clashes that followed the shooting on the protest.

There was no comment from the Syrian authorities, which restricts media access in the country.