Russia says UN vote undermines peace efforts in Syria

A boy plays on a tank near a ruined mosque in Azaz, 47km (29 miles) north of Aleppo, 3 August

Russia has said a resolution on Syria passed by the UN General Assembly undermines peace efforts there, as fighting continues on the ground.

Moscow's UN envoy, Vitaly Churkin, told reporters the resolution was one-sided and supported the armed opposition.

Western nations praised the resolution, which passed by 133 votes to 12 with 31 abstentions.

It criticises both the UN's own Security Council and the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The assembly debated the resolution, which was proposed by Saudi Arabia, shortly after the resignation of UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan and the failure of his six-point peace plan.

In Syria, government forces backed by tanks launched a new assault in Damascus while shelling continued in the country's largest city, Aleppo.

Analysis

The resolution condemning the Syrian government and calling for a political transition is not legally binding, but its Arab and Western sponsors see the overwhelming "Yes" vote as proof that they have world opinion behind them, despite the deadlock in the Security Council, which they harshly criticised.

Even so, the massive majority came at a price: the text had to be watered down in an attempt to win over many states, dropping explicit calls for Bashar al-Assad to step down and for member states to support Arab League sanctions.

And even though the opposition was small, it again included China and Russia. Moscow opposed the resolution as unbalanced, making clear that it believes the UN is taking one side in a civil war. So the General Assembly intervention will do nothing to bridge the fundamental divides in the Security Council, and may widen them.

Activists say more than 20,000 people - mostly civilians - have died in 17 months of unrest.

'Strong message'

Russia voted "no" on Friday along with China, Syria, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Belarus, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Burma, Zimbabwe and Venezuela. Among those states abstaining were India and Pakistan.

Mr Churkin told the UN that the Saudi-drafted resolution concealed "blatant support for the armed opposition".

He said his country regretted the resolution which "only aggravates confrontational approaches to the resolution of the Syrian crisis, doing nothing to facilitate dialogue between the parties".

It was "written as if no armed opposition existed at all", he added.

Mr Churkin pointed out that the resolution called on the UN envoy to work towards a transition to democracy in Syria, yet the envoy's task had been to arrange dialogue, not regime change.

Chinese deputy UN ambassador Wang Min said pressuring Syria's government would "cause further escalation of the turmoil" and allow the crisis to spread to neighbouring countries.

Russia and China have blocked three attempts in the UN Security Council to impose sanctions against Damascus.

Syria's UN ambassador Bashar Jaafari spoke of ''blatant hypocrisy'' by those who co-sponsored the draft resolution

Syria's UN ambassador, Bashar Jaafari, suggested Saudi Arabia and fellow resolution sponsor Qatar were trying to act as both "a fireman and an arsonist at the same time".

The resolution expresses "grave concern" at the escalation of violence in Syria and deplores "the failure of the Security Council to agree on measures to ensure the compliance of Syrian authorities with its decisions".

It says it is up to the Syrian government to take the "first step in the cessation of violence".

Susan Rice, the US envoy at the UN, welcomed the passing of the resolution. The UN General Assembly "sent a strong message today: the overwhelming majority of nations stand with the people of Syria", she wrote on Twitter.

Britain's UN ambassador Sir Mark Lyall Grant said a "colossal majority" had supported the resolution.

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said: "This resolution... sends a clear signal that the world stands together in condemning the Syrian regime's systematic human rights violations and in calling for accountability."

During the assembly's session, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the conflict in Syria had become a "proxy war" and called on powers to overcome their rivalries in an effort to end the violence.

'Explosions all day'

Fighting raged in the Tadamon district of Damascus for a second day on Friday, with opposition activists saying government troops had regained control of the area.

Eyewitnesses and activists say government forces used dozens of tanks and armoured vehicles to attack what had been seen as the rebels' last stronghold in the capital.

The result of the vote was announced by UN General Assembly President, Nassir Abdulaziz al-Nasser

Troops killed "several" rebels and wounded many more, Syrian state media reported.

"The bombs are back, I have been hearing explosions all day," a resident of central Damascus told the Associated Press news agency, asking to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals.

Fighting has also continued in Aleppo, where government forces have been trying to reclaim areas seized by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in the past two weeks.

Hundreds of people gathered in the al-Shaar neighbourhood to chant "The people want the execution of Bashar!" and "The people want freedom and peace", AFP news agency reporter at the scene says.

UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told the Security Council that UN observers in Aleppo were seeing "a considerable build-up of military means, where we have reason to believe that the main battle is about to start".

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