Violence has surged in Syria as Western members of the United Nations Security Council spar with Russia over how to stop the bloodshed from the 10-month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.
The Syrian-based activist group Local Coordination Committees said Mr. Assad's security forces on Tuesday killed at least 30 people, 19 of them in the troubled central province of Homs. The group said eight civilians died when a minibus struck a roadside bomb planted by pro-government soldiers in northern Idlib province.
France, Britain and the U.S. are pushing for strong condemnation of Syria. Western diplomats say they cannot accept Russia's draft Security Council resolution that assigns equal blame for the violence to the government and opposition. Senior diplomats from the U.N. body were to meet Tuesday to discuss the revised Russian draft.
U.S. President Barack Obama Tuesday condemned Syria's continued crackdown on protesters, calling the violence "unacceptable" and vowing to redouble international efforts to force Mr. Assad to step down.
Earlier, Syria rejected a Qatari proposal to send Arab troops to the country to stop the unrest, saying such a move would worsen the situation and open the door to foreign interference. The Syrian foreign ministry said Damascus will oppose any attempt to undermine its sovereignty and wants Arab nations to stop what it called a media campaign against Syria.
Last week, Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani proposed deploying Arab troops in Syria, saying the move is needed to "stop the killing." He is the first Arab leader to put forth that idea. The Arab League is due to discuss the crisis in Syria on Saturday and Sunday, and is expected to discuss the future of its widely criticized observer mission in the country.
Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said Tuesday Moscow will not support sending Arab peacekeepers to Syria. In an interview with the BBC, Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vitaliy Churkin called the Qatari proposal a "distraction" and an "irritant."
The developments came a day after the rebel Free Syrian Army called on the U.N. to invoke Chapter 7 from its charter to take military action against Syria to end the killing of civilians. Chapter 7 allows U.N. forces to initiate force under certain conditions, not simply to act in self-defense.
Western powers have been pushing the Security Council to condemn the Syrian government for its violent suppression of the uprising and to impose sanctions on Damascus. Russia and China have blocked such measures.
Syria is Moscow's chief ally in the region and one of its biggest arms customers. A Russian-operated ship carrying ammunition allegedly docked in Syria last week. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice said an arms embargo against Damascus is "overdue."
"Obviously we’d have very grave concern about arms flows into Syria from any source and we would certainly make that point very directly with any country that may be providing such arms," said Rice. "Unfortunately, there is not an arms embargo against Syria, which we certainly think is overdue, in part because as you well know, some members of the Council, including Russia, have indicated opposition to any form of sanction, even those that mirror that [which] the Arab League has already implemented."
Senior U.S. officials say Iran also is supplying weapons to aid Syria's crackdown in an initiative spearheaded by the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps' elite Quds force. The officials cited Quds chief Ghassem Soleimani's recent visit to Damascus as a concrete example of direct, high-level cooperation between Iran and Syria.
The United Nations says violence linked to the uprising has killed more than 5,400 people, including 400 in the last three weeks. Syria says "terrorists" have killed about 2,000 members of the security forces since the unrest began.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.