UN Security Council Discusses Violence in Syria

Arab and European members of council trying to apply more diplomatic pressure on Bashar Assad's regime.

The UN Security Council on Friday was discussing an Arab League-backed plan to respond to the crisis in Syria, diplomats said as they headed into the closed-door consultations.

French Ambassador Gerard Araud said council members expected a presentation by the Moroccan ambassador, whose country joined the council this month.

Syria anti-regime protest - AFP - January 20 2012

Araud said a new Arab-European draft resolution reflecting the Arab League's demands on Syria would be introduced, and he hoped that it would be voted on next week. "We have waited too long," he said.

The UN says at least 5,400 have been killed in a months-long Syrian government crackdown on civilian protests.

European diplomats have been meeting this week with diplomats from Arab countries, including Morocco and Qatar, on a resolution that would strongly back an Arab League bid to end the crisis.

"There is now a chance that the Security Council will finally take a clear stand on Syria. That is long overdue," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Friday at the General Affairs Council in Brussels. The comments were provided by the German mission to journalists at the UN.

On Tuesday, the Arab League secretary-general and Qatar's prime minister will brief the Security Council on the situation in Syria.

"We hope now that council members will seize this new window of opportunity and find common ground," German Ambassador Peter Wittig said.

But approval was far from guaranteed.

Permanent council members Russia and China used their veto powers last fall to block an earlier European resolution on Syria. On Friday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov was quoted by the ITAR-Tass news agency as saying Moscow will oppose a new draft UN resolution on Syria because it fails to take Kremlin's concerns into account.

South African Ambassador Baso Sangqu said it was important that supporters of the resolution assure other countries, including his, that the draft was not a plan for regime change.

Russia and some other countries believe NATO misused last year's Security Council's resolutions on Libya as a pretext for regime change in that nation.

Russia has been a strong ally of Syria since Soviet times, when the country was led by the president's father Hafez Assad, and has long supplied Syria with aircraft, missiles, tanks and other modern weapons.

The new Arab-European draft resolution on Syria, obtained by The Associated Press, expresses support of the Arab League's Jan. 22 decision "to facilitate a political transition leading to a democratic, plural political system."

The draft does not mention sanctions, but calls for the adoption of unspecified "further measures, in consultation with the League of Arab States," if Syria does not comply within 15 days.

The draft also condemns the "continued widespread and gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms by the Syrian authorities" and demands that the Syrian government immediately stop all human rights violations.

Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said a European-Arab draft resolution on Syria circulated to the U.N. Security Council on Friday was unacceptable in parts, but Russia was ready to "engage" on it.

The Arab League earlier this month sent observers to Syria, but the mission was widely criticized for failing to stop the violence. Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia pulled out of the mission Tuesday, asking the Security Council to intervene because the Syrian government has not halted its crackdown.

The head of Arab League observers in Syria said in a statement that violence in the country has spiked over the past few days. Sudanese Gen. Mohammed Ahmed Dabi said the cities of Homs, Hama and Idlib have all witnessed a "very high escalation" in violence since Tuesday.

The United Nations says more than 5,000 people have been killed in a 10-month
crackdown on anti-government protesters.