DAMASCUS: Fresh bloodshed swept Syria on Wednesday after Western powers and the Arab League demanded immediate UN action to stop the regime’s “killing machine” but holdout Russia vowed to veto any proposal it deemed unacceptable.
Wrangling at the United Nations came as fierce clashes raged across Syria’s powder keg regions killing 59 people, mostly civilians, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The Britain-based monitoring group said at least eight civilians were killed in shelling by regime forces in the restive central city of Homs while 24 were killed in fighting in the Damascus region.
Activists said the unrest had killed nearly 200 people nationwide over the previous three days while France said on Wednesday 6,000 people had been killed since the beginning of the uprising nearly 11 months ago.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, backed by her French and British counterparts and Qatar’s premier, led the charge on Tuesday for a tough UN resolution that would call on Assad to end the bloodshed and hand over power.
“We all know that change is coming to Syria. Despite its ruthless tactics, the Assad regime’s reign of terror will end,” Clinton told the UN Security Council. “The question for us is: how many more innocent civilians will die before this country is able to move forward?” But on Wednesday, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov appeared to snuff out any hopes of a quick vote.
“Attempts are being made to find a text that is acceptable to all sides and would help find a political solution for the situation in Syria. Therefore there is going to be no vote in the next days,” he told Interfax news agency.
Analysts warn that the conflict, between a guerrilla movement backed by growing numbers of army deserters and a regime increasingly bent on repression, has largely eclipsed the peaceful protests seen at the start of the uprising.
“It is the beginning of an all-out armed conflict,” said Joshua Landis, head of the Centre for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma.
“We are heading toward real chaos,” he added. “The Syrian public in general is beginning to (realise) that there isn’t a magic ending to this, there isn’t a regime collapse.”
The new French death toll comes after UN human rights Chief Navi Pillay said on January 25 that her organisation had stopped counting the dead from Syria’s crackdown on the protests because it is too difficult to get information. Early in January, UN data showed more than 5,400 people killed in Syria since the pro-democracy uprising began in mid-March.
Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al-Thani, speaking at the Security Council on behalf of the Arab League, said Assad’s regime had “failed to make any sincere effort” to end the crisis and believed the only solution was “to kill its own people.”
“Bloodshed continued and the killing machine is still at work,” he said. But Russia, a longstanding ally of Assad and one of the regime’s top suppliers of weapons, declared that the UN body did not have the authority to impose a resolution that called for regime change in Syria, a position supported by China.
“If the text is unacceptable then we will vote against,” Russia’s UN envoy Vitaly Churkin was quoted as saying by the RIA Novosti news agency.
Russia would not approve a text it viewed as “incorrect” and would “lead to a deepening of the conflict”, he said.