Syria crisis: UN Security Council mulls Assad measures

The BBC's Jeremy Bowen in Damascus suburb where President Assad appears to be losing his control

The UN Security Council has met to consider a draft resolution against Syria's government.

Activists and the Arab League urged the UN to take stronger action after a surge in violence this week in which dozens of people have died.

The UK, France and Germany drafted a resolution with Arab states, supporting the League's call for President Bashar al-Assad to hand power to a deputy.

Russia, an ally of Mr Assad, has said it will not back the text.

Russia's UN envoy Vitaly Churkin told reporters after the meeting in New York that the draft resolution was unacceptable, but Moscow was ready to engage in further talks.

He said Russia had set out its "red lines" and that the resolution should not contain any threat of sanctions or an arms embargo.

At the scene

A convoy of journalists, without regime minders, went alone to Saqba, a poor district about 20 minutes from central Damascus, where a funeral was due to happen of a man killed by the Assad regime's forces.

Once we left the centre, we saw no regime security men. Then, on the edge of Saqba, we came upon several dozen armed and masked fighters from the Free Syria Army.

Local people said that the intelligence and police conducted operations in the area, sometimes a couple of times a week, sometimes every night.

It's clear that the regime forces, when they deploy enough men, can enter the rebellious suburbs of Damascus. But they do not appear to have the force to hold them.

This does not mean that the president is about to fall. He has his own hard-core support, and he also has well-armed forces, in and out of uniform. It looks as if Syria faces more blood and more bitterness.

The draft "not only ignored our red lines but also added some new elements which we find unacceptable as a matter of principle," AFP news agency reported him as saying.

"The Security Council cannot go about imposing solutions in crisis situations in various countries of the world."

The BBC's UN correspondent, Barbara Plett, says Russia will not support any measure that could mean regime change.

Moscow was also concerned about a warning of further measures if Syria does not comply with the resolution, fearing that this could open the door to outside intervention, our correspondent says.

Russia and China vetoed a previous draft resolution against Syria late last year.

Western nations have been hoping that Arab League support for this resolution will soften Russian resistance.

'Long overdue'

The current draft, presented to the council by Morocco, largely supports a plan outlined by the Arab League earlier this week calling for Mr Assad to hand authority to a deputy, who would form a national unity government with the opposition within two months.

The draft resolution calls for further measures if the Syrian government does not comply with the call for political transition.

The council will not vote on the resolution until next week.

"There is now a chance that the Security Council will finally take a clear stand on Syria. That is long overdue,'' said German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.

The French ambassador to the UN, Gerrard Araud described the situation in Syria as a major crisis.

"The country is sinking into civil war. We are desperately looking for a political solution," he said.

"We have here the League of Arab States which is proposing a solution. So our reaction is simply to support it, but again, there is nothing else."

Syria's UN ambassador, Bashar Ja'afari, expressed anger towards the states that drafted the resolution.

"They are talking about my country without consulting us, without sharing with us their concerns, their remarks," he said.

"They deal with us as if we are a former colony, that we should subjugate ourselves to their will. They are wrong and they will be disappointed."

Growing violence

The UN meeting comes amid a spike in violence across Syria, with activists reporting 135 people killed in the past two days.

Gen Mustafa al-Dabi, head of the Arab League's monitoring mission, said violence had soared "in a significant way" in recent days.

Earlier in the week, the general had claimed that the Arab League mission had helped reduce the level of violence in Syria.

Opposition forces have set up checkpoints in parts of the capital, and correspondents say forces loyal to Mr Assad appear unable to maintain control.

The UN has conceded it cannot keep track of the death toll, which it estimated as more than 5,400 people since the unrest began last March.

The government says it is fighting "terrorists and armed gangs" and claims that some 2,000 members of the security forces have been killed.

Damascus map

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