Middle East

Syria: EU push for UN condemnation fails

The UN Security Council has failed to agree on a statement condemning Syria's violent crackdown against protesters.

A draft proposed by France, Britain, Germany and Portugal was opposed by several within the 15-member council, with Russia insisting events in Syria were not a threat to global peace.

In southern Syria, 200 members of the ruling Baath party are reported to have resigned after violence around Deraa.

Some 450 Syrians have allegedly been killed during six weeks of protests.

At the UN, China and India called for political dialogue and peaceful resolution of the crisis, but stopped short of condemning the violence.

Alexander Pankin, Russia's Ambassador to the UN, warned that a "real threat to regional security could arise from outside interference in Syria's domestic situation".

Moscow has increasingly opposed military action in Libya, arguing that operations against Col Gaddafi's forces have been exceeded the scope of a Security Council resolution.

Syria's ambassador to the UN, Bashar Jaafari, said his government would resist external intervention in his country's affairs.

"As a government, we cannot accept that some claim to value the lives of our sons more than we do. The policies of interfering in affairs of other states through various justifications and pretexts have always proven to be erroneous," he said.

'Abhorrent violence'

The BBC's Barbara Plett, at the UN headquarters in New York, says that, apart from Libya, the UN Security Council has not responded very much to revolts across the Arab world.

She adds that Russia's growing uneasiness about the international intervention in Libya - which Moscow says is going beyond its UN mandate to protect civilians - had probably hardened its position on Syria.

But the US ambassador called on Syria to stop what it called the government's abhorrent violence, and on the international community to act.

"My government calls on President [Bashar] Assad to change course now and heed the calls of his own people," said Susan Rice.

"We also call on the international community to respond to this brutal crackdown and to hold accountable those who are perpetrating these gross human rights violations," she added.

Both the US and the Europeans warned that, unless the demands for reform are heeded quickly, they will be pressing for additional sanctions.

The text proposed by the European states at the Security Council condemned the violence against civilians and backed UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's call for a "transparent" independent investigation into deaths in the protests.

Communications cut

On Wednesday, five EU nations - France, Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain - jointly summoned Syrian ambassadors to condemn Damascus' crackdown.

There were reports of further shooting in the southern city of Deraa where the rallies first erupted last month and more tanks were said to be headed towards the city, where army troops have attacked protesters.

President Assad's government disputes the Western view that the demonstrations have been non-violent.

In a statement carried by the official news agency, it said it had sent troops to several cities on the request of citizens who were worried about "armed extremists". Opposition leaders say the protests are peaceful.

Footage posted on the internet appeared to show Syrian tanks heading towards Deraa to reinforce troops who moved into it on Monday.

Amnesty International quoted eyewitnesses as saying army snipers were shooting at wounded residents lying in the streets and that other people were trying to save them.

But with communications apparently cut off from Deraa, it is hard to be sure what is happening there, the BBC's Jim Muir in neighbouring Lebanon says.

On Wednesday, a human rights activist said he had documented the case of a soldier being shot by the army for refusing to fire on protesters in Baniyas.

The army blamed radical Islamists for his death, but mourners at the soldier's funeral "openly accused the security forces of shooting that soldier", Wissam Tarif, director of the Syrian human rights organisation Insan, told the BBC.

On Friday, the UN Human Rights Council is due to hold an emergency session to consider a draft resolution demanding an immediate end to President Assad's efforts to crush the challenge to his rule.

The text also calls on Syria to lift its ban on nearly all foreign media and ease its restrictions on the internet and telecommunications.

Around the BBC

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites