Syria unrest: 'Humanitarian' vote pressed at UN

Mass funeral in Homs, 26 Feb 2012 Dozens have died in the past few days in Homs, opposition activists say

A new resolution is being drawn up at the United Nations to focus on humanitarian aid for Syria, in the hope both China and Russia, which have opposed previous votes, will back it.

Although diplomats said the move was in the early stage, China said it did back "creating conditions" for humanitarian aid to be sent.

A UN meeting on Tuesday was told more than 7,500 had died in Syrian unrest.

Syrian forces continued to pound the city of Homs on Wednesday.

Three journalists, Edith Bouvier, William Daniels and Javier Espinosa, are still believed to be trapped in Homs.

Sunday Times photographer Paul Conroy was smuggled out to Lebanon on Tuesday in an operation that left 13 Syrian opposition activists dead.

'Political dialogue'

The US and France are working on a new draft UN Security Council resolution seeking access for humanitarian aid workers and an end to violence.

On 4 February China and Russia blocked a UN resolution backing an Arab plan condemning the crackdown and calling on President Bashar al-Assad to step down.

Video has been released reportedly showing the aftermath of clashes in Sarmin, near Idlib city

One diplomat told Reuters there was a new text but it was not yet a formal draft. "It's been drafted by the Americans. It hasn't gone to the full council, just to a small circle of like-minded countries."

Another diplomat told AFP: "This resolution will concentrate on humanitarian access to the cities, but it will indicate that the government is the cause of the crisis."

The aim is to make it hard for Russia and China, who are opposed to what they say is forced regime change, to use their veto.

China's Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi indicated his country was in favour of creating the conditions for aid to be sent.

Speaking to the head of the Arab League, Nabil Elaraby, over the phone, Mr Yang said China was willing to work with the Arab nations for ''a peaceful and proper settlement of the Syria issue'', the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Mr Yang said that it was ''an urgent task'' for opposing sides in Syria to halt violence in order to begin ''an inclusive political dialogue''.

Trapped Journalists

Composite image of Edith Bouvier, William Daniels and Javier Espinosa

EDITH BOUVIER

Thirty-one-year-old reporter for French daily Le Figaro and Radio France Internationale. Sustained a broken femur in the attack which killed US war correspondent Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik.

WILLIAM DANIELS

The 34-year-old Paris-based photographer specialises in documenting humanitarian crises. He is represented by the London-based Panos agency and is working with Ms Bouvier on an assignment for Le Figaro.

JAVIER ESPINOSA

Spanish daily El Mundo's Middle East correspondent. He began working for the paper in 1994, covering the Rwandan genocide. Has also reported from Mexico and Morocco for the paper. In 1999, he was kidnapped and held for 48 hours by rebels in Sierra Leone.

"The international community should create favourable conditions in this regard and provide humanitarian aid to Syria," Xinhua quoted him as saying.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week called Russia and China's veto "despicable" - comments the Chinese foreign ministry said were not acceptable.

Critics have said the effect of the Chinese and Russian vetoes was to provide diplomatic support for the Assad regime, which then escalated its offensives against Homs and other cities.

The BBC's Damian Grammaticas in Beijing says China has been stung by the international criticism. It now appears to be trying to repair the damage to its diplomatic relations with Arab nations who had urged it to support UN action.

In recent days China's state-controlled media has been attacking Western governments, saying that they were pursuing "hegemonistic ambitions" under the guise of "humanitarian concern".

But our correspondent says it is far from clear whether China will or will not veto any new Security Council resolution.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said he "solemnly" appealed to Beijing and Moscow not to block it.

'Fierce confrontations'

Residents of Homs fear the army is planning an imminent ground assault there.

Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui said the debate was "fuelling the flames of terrorism"

One activist in the city, Mohammad al-Homsi, told Reuters news agency that the army was moving infantry towards the al-Bassel football stadium just north of the besieged district of Baba Amr, and that "fierce confrontations with automatic rifles and heavy machineguns are taking place there".

Another activist, Hadi Abdullah, told AFP news agency, power had been cut to most of the city.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says some 100 people were killed in the past two days in the continuing Syrian bombardment of Homs.

The fate of the remaining journalists remains unclear. They left with Mr Conroy but became separated.

Ms Bouvier and Mr Conroy were both hurt in an earlier attack that killed fellow journalists Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik.

The UN's new estimate of the number of deaths in Syria came at a meeting of the UN Security Council.

"There are credible reports that the death toll now often exceeds 100 civilians a day, including many women and children," said Lynn Pascoe.

"The total killed so far is certainly well over 7,500 people."

The Syrian government says at least 1,345 members of the security forces have been killed combating what it calls "armed gangs and terrorists", and puts the number of civilians killed at 2,493.

An emergency meeting of the UN Human Rights Council was also held on Tuesday in Geneva, where commissioner Navi Pillay said atrocities against civilians were being committed.

Syria's representative to the UN, Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui, stormed out of the session, accusing countries of "inciting sectarianism and providing arms".

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