Britain and France were expected to put forward a UN Security Council resolution late yesterday condemning Syria's crackdown on protesters, British Prime Minister David Cameron said. But the proposal was not expected to be put to a vote the same day.
U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said his country is applying pressure on Syria on two tracks, via the UN Security Council and the International Atomic Energy Agency amid the continuing confrontation between the Syrian army and anti-government protesters.
On Tuesday, the Israeli Foreign Ministry sent a letter of complaint to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the president of the Security Council, accusing the Syrian regime of responsibility for Sunday's violent demonstrations on Syria's border with the Golan Heights. Syria is responsible for preventing violations of the border agreement between the countries and failed to prevent demonstrators from approaching the border, Israel said.
More than 20 people died this week when Israeli troops opened fire on protesters trying to rush the border, the Syrian media says. As anti-government violence heats up at home, the Syrian government says more demonstrations against Israel are likely. By stirring up trouble, Syrian President Bashar Assad aims to show that he stands between order and chaos, analysts say.
The intensity of the anti-government protests suggests that the Golan violence has not distracted many Syrians from the uprising against the Assad regime. There have been reports of the killing of 14 Palestinians by members of Ahmed Jabril's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command during funerals for protesters who died trying to breach Israel's border fence.
The organization is considered close to the Assad regime, and commentators in the Arab press say the confrontation stemmed from demonstrators' anger at Jabril's alleged willingness to send young Palestinians living in Syria to the Golan border. In this way, they endangered their lives to divert attention from anti-Assad protests.
Meanwhile, several hundred Syrian refugees have crossed into Turkey in recent days after fleeing the area around Jisr-al-Shughur, where heavy fighting has taken place between the Syrian army and opposition forces. Three days ago, Syria reported that about 120 of its troops had been killed in an ambush by armed militias at the entrance to the town. At the beginning of the week 35 civilians were shot dead by Syrian security forces there.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry has said about 400 people have crossed the border into Turkey illegally and that 35 other Syrians were in Turkish hospitals receiving medical care.
Britain, France, Germany and Portugal circulated a first draft condemning Syria at the Security Council last month but Russia and China, both of which have veto power on the council, made clear they disliked the idea of council involvement.
"Today in New York, Britain and France will be tabling a resolution at the Security Council condemning the repression and demanding accountability and humanitarian access," Cameron told the British parliament in London yesterday. "And if anyone votes against that resolution or tries to veto it, that should be on their conscience."
The original draft resolution, which diplomats say has been amended only slightly since it went to council members late last month, urges countries not to supply weapons to Damascus but would not provide for an actual arms embargo or other specific punitive measures.
One diplomat said the amendments attempted to make it look less like a prelude to further action such as the military intervention that NATO has conducted in Libya, which has angered Russia. The envoy added that the latest draft makes clear that the Syrian authorities can still reverse course. At the same time, a senior European diplomat told reporters in Washington that European Union nations are preparing a third round of sanctions against Syria that target Syrian companies.
While Russia has long been an ally and key arms supplier to Syria, diplomats said its negative position on the resolution might have more to do with its anger about the NATO intervention in Libya, which Moscow believes has spun out of control beyond the original UN mandate to protect civilians.
Three months of popular unrest in Syria has cost more than 1,000 lives, according to human rights groups. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Tuesday Syrian President Assad was losing legitimacy and should reform or quit.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe has said he believes the resolution could attract at least 11 of the 15 Security Council votes. UN diplomats say that only nine votes are certain, since South Africa and Brazil continue to have questions about the draft.
The United States and several other Western countries are also privately pressing the International Atomic Energy Agency to refer Syria nuclear plans for the consideration by the UN Security Council. In its most recent report on Syria, the IAEA said Syria had built a nuclear reactor for plutonium production, which could have been used for the production of nuclear weapons.
The reactor was bombed from the air in September 2007, several weeks before it was due to go online, in an attack the foreign press has attributed to the Israel Air Force. Syria denies that it was a reactor that was hit, but has not provided reasonable explanations on the activity conducted there.
Toner confirmed yesterday that the United States was putting pressure on Syria through both the UN Security Council and the IAEA. State Department officials acknowledge, however, that their ability to monitor the events in Syria is limited. The State Department has declined to say whether the United States was prepared to support the opposition in Syria. Toner told reporters the U.S. supports democratic processes in the country.
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