Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, pictured in 2011. Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi is fighting an uphill battle to court Russia and China to win their support at the United Nations for the latest Arab plan aimed at ending the bloodshed in Syria. © Alexander Nemenov - AFP/File
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov
Mona Salem, AFP
Last updated: January 30, 2012

Arab League seeks Beijing and Moscow's support on Syria

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday demanded UN action to stop spiraling violence in Syria as she prepared to join other top diplomats in pressing a reluctant Russia.

As a Syrian government offensive was blamed for the deaths of dozens more civilians, Clinton said she would join the foreign ministers of France and Britain and the Arab League chief at the United Nations on Tuesday.

"The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the escalation of the Syrian regime's violent and brutal attacks on its own people," Clinton said in a statement.

"The Security Council must act and make clear to the Syrian regime that the world community views its actions as a threat to peace and security. The violence must end, so that a new period of democratic transition can begin," she said.

Clinton said that the Security Council session aimed to send a clear message from the international community to the Syrian people: "We stand with you."

EU President Herman Van Rompuy, speaking after a European summit in Brussels, urged the UN Security Council to "take long overdue steps to bring an end to the repression."

But Russia, the main diplomatic supporter and arms supplier to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, held firm that it would use its veto power against an Arab League-supported resolution that calls for a ceasefire.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said that the latest draft resolution, which was introduced by Morocco on Friday, was little different to a Western-backed one which Russia and China vetoed in October.

"The draft has statements in it calling on the member states to stop arms deliveries to Syria," he told Interfax news agency in an interview.

"But there is no clear line between arms contraband that some countries engage in to support extremist forces in Syria, and the legal military-technical ties with this country," he said.

Russia has instead called for Assad's regime and the opposition to hold "informal contacts" in Moscow without any preconditions.

Asked about Russia's call for talks, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the United States supported a political solution but was "intensely discussing" with Russia the "real deterioration on the ground" in Syria.

Human rights groups say that more than 5,400 people have died in Syria as Assad tries to crush the latest in a wave of Arab uprisings that last year overthrew authoritarian leaders in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.

Activists said that another 53 people were killed Monday -- 35 of them civilians -- a day after 80 people were reported to have died in some of the most intense clashes since anti-Assad protests erupted 10 months ago.

Regime forces appeared determined to wrest back control of Damascus suburbs which have intermittently fallen into the hands of the rebels and were reported to have executed a founder of the rebel army.

Troops penetrated Rankus, 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of the capital, after having shelled the town which the army had encircled for the past six days, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Activists at the scene said that rebel troops pulled out of Rankus as the army moved in, while in the eastern suburbs of Irbin and Hammuriyeh, snipers were "shooting at everything that moves."

Elsewhere in Syria, the Observatory said at least 20 civilians were killed when security forces stormed the flashpoint central city of Homs, among them a doctor and a young girl.

The opposition Syrian National Council warned of the potential for a massacre in Rankus after hundreds of young men were rounded up by security forces.

"They have imposed a siege on Rankus, preventing food and medical aid from entering" the town of 25,000 inhabitants, it said in a statement.

The opposition has flatly rejected Russia's proposal for unconditional dialogue. The Arab League-backed resolution calls for a halt to violence and Assad handing over power to his deputy ahead of negotiations.

Before heading to New York, Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi urged Russia and China to change their position, saying that deteriorating conditions had led Arab monitors to suspend their mission to Syria.

In Paris, French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero urged action against "the Syrian regime's savage repression."

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe will seek to "persuade the Security Council to assume its responsibilities faced with the Syrian regime's worsening crimes against humanity," Valero told journalists.

Britain's Foreign Office, in a statement announcing Foreign Secretary William Hague's travel to New York, called for the Security Council to agree to a resolution this week, saying that "the killing must stop."

But it remains unclear if and when the United Nations would move for a vote.

A French diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that opinions have "evolved" within the council and at least 10 of the 15 members could vote in favor of the draft resolution.

But the diplomat said that Russia and India were the most hostile to the resolution.

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