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Russia, China veto UN Syria sanctions; US calls vote regrettable

Updated at 4:45 p.m. ET: Russia and China vetoed a Western-backed U.N. Security Council resolution on Thursday that threatened Syrian authorities with sanctions if they did not stop using heavy weapons against an uprising and withdraw troops from towns and cities.

The 11-2 vote was the third time that Russia, a key ally of the Syrian government, and China have used their veto power to block U.N. Security Council resolutions designed to put pressure on Syrian President Bashar Assad and halt the violence in the 16-month conflict that has killed thousands of people.

The veto came on the same day that a Syrian opposition monitoring group said 250 people had been killed in fighting. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human rights said 155 civilians, including 44 people in Damascus where pitched battles have raged for five days, and 93 security forces personnel were killed.
The number could not be independently confirmed. 

The vetoed resolution would have extended a U.N. observer mission in Syria for 45 days.

A frustrated White House declared that Russia and China placed themselves on the "'wrong side of history" and the "wrong side of the Syrian people."

White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One that the vote was "regrettable" and "highly unfortunate."

Related: Assad reportedly directs troops from tribal heartland as rebels flood capital

The 11-2 vote, with abstentions from South Africa and Pakistan, was the third double veto by Russia and China of a resolution addressing the Syria crisis. The two countries are Damascus' most important allies.

Carney said the lack of U.N consensus "will have repercussions for the countries that vetoed the resolution for a long time in terms of how they're viewed by the Syrian people. Because there is no doubt that Syria's future will not include Bashar Assad."

He added: "It is a mistake to prop up that regime as it comes to an end."

Britain's U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant told the council he was "appalled'' by Russia and China's vetoes.

"The effect of their actions is to protect a brutal regime. They have chosen to put their national interests ahead of the lives of millions of Syrians,'' he said.

Britain has drafted a new resolution to extend a U.N. mission in Syria "for a final period of 30 days" and it could be voted on later on Thursday, diplomats said.

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His French counterpart, Gerard Araud, said proponents of strong U.N. action on Syria would not be dissuaded.

"We simply couldn't be accomplices of a strategy which brought together false diplomatic action and paralysis,'' Araud told the council. "This double veto will not stop us. We will continue to assist a Syrian opposition on its path to democratic transition in Syria.''

The vote creates uncertainty for the 300-strong U.N. observer mission in Syria, sent there to monitor a cease-fire and implementation of international envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan. The mission suspended operations amid intensified fighting. Its mandate expires Friday.

PhotoBlog: Who are the Syrian rebels?

Carney said the United States does not support extending the mission "without the necessary backup."

The veto came as fighting continued in Syria. Among key developments Thursday:

  • Syrian rebel fighters took over the Bab al-Hawa gate, a vital commercial Turkish border crossing, and seized control of the customs and immigration buildings on the Syrian side of the northern frontier, a rebel fighter and a spokesman said.
  • Rebels attacked the main police headquarters in Damascus on Thursday, a witness said, a day after the assassination of three of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's top lieutenants. "Gunfire has been intense for the past hour. It is now dying down but the streets around the police command remain empty," a resident of Qanawat, an old central district where the Damascus Province Police Headquarters is located, told Reuters by phone.
  • About 20,000 Syrians traveled across the main border crossing into Lebanon in the day since fighting tore through several districts of Damascus, a Lebanese security source working at the border said. The number of Syrians, many of them day-workers, who travel through the official Masnaa border crossing usually hovers around 5,000 per day, the source said.

PhotoBlog: Behind Syrian rebel lines 

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This article includes reporting by Reuters.

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