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    UN Rights Council Condemns Syrian Crackdown

    Free Syrian Army supporters chant anti government slogans under snowfall on the outskirts of Idlib, Syria, Feb. 29, 2012.
    Free Syrian Army supporters chant anti government slogans under snowfall on the outskirts of Idlib, Syria, Feb. 29, 2012.

    The United Nations Human Rights Council has condemned what it calls "widespread and systematic violations of human rights" by the Syrian government, and reiterated the "urgent" need address the humanitarian situation in the country.

    At a session Thursday in Geneva, the council adopted a resolution calling on President Bashar al-Assad's government to immediately halt "all human rights violations" and attacks against civilians.  It highlighted the recent deaths of Syrian and foreign journalists, as well as interference in people getting access to medical care.

    Vetoes


    Russia, China and Cuba voted against the measure.

    Russia and China have twice vetoed U.N. Security Council resolutions condemning the Syrian government for its deadly crackdown on a nearly year-long opposition uprising.

    The U.S. envoy to the council, Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, said there is an "overwhelming international consensus" on the humanitarian crisis in Syria, and that "the vote speaks for itself."

    "I think the isolation of China, Russia and Cuba is sad, but it was expected," she said.  "And I think that the meaning of this vote is almost as important for those three countries as it is for the Assad regime.  They are on the wrong side of history, and I think this outcome may help them begin to understand that they're in the wrong."

    Meeting planned


    Kuwaiti officials said Thursday Arab foreign ministers will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov next week in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, to discuss the crisis in Syria.

    Britain said Thursday it had withdrawn all of its diplomatic personnel from Syria because of security concerns.

    The developments come a day after the U.S. State Department summoned Syria's senior diplomat in Washington to express outrage at the government's month-long bombardment of the city of Homs.

    New envoy

    Kofi Annan, the newly-appointed U.N.-Arab League joint envoy for Syria, said Wednesday he will soon travel to Syria to push President Bashar al-Assad to engage in dialogue with the opposition.

    At a joint news conference with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York, he said it is "regrettable" Syria has not granted humanitarian workers access to trapped civilians, and said his first priority is bringing an end to the violence.

    The former U.N. chief is due to begin his first visit to the region as a Syria envoy by holding talks with Arab League head Nabil Elaraby in Cairo.

    Help from Iran

    Also Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a congressional committee that Assad is getting help from others in the region.

    "There is little doubt that Iran is strongly supporting Assad and his regime," Clinton said.  "The details about what they are or are not doing, we could provide what we know in a classified session, but you are absolutely right that Iran has a lot invested in Assad and will do whatever it can to keep him in power."

    Homs under attack

    Syrian security forces launched a ground assault Wednesday in Homs, where activists said the fighting involved the elite 4th Armored Division and the rebel Free Syrian Army.

    A Syrian official vowed that Baba Amr neighborhood would be "cleansed" within hours.  But an activist in the district told VOA via Skype that rebel lines have held.

    Syrian rights groups said at least 15 people were killed in violence related to the uprising on Wednesday.

    The Baba Amr activist, who uses the pseudonym Abo Emad, told VOA he had witnessed about 16 government soldiers abandon their tanks and defect to the opposition Wednesday.  He said rebel sources told him more desertions were taking place as troops enter the city and blend in with the local population.

    Abo Emad also said pro-Assad regular troops and Shabiha militiamen were raiding houses in Homs' wealthy al-Inshaat neighborhood, stealing personal effects and setting fire to the targeted homes.  VOA cannot independently confirm opposition or government reports.

    The U.N. says more than 7,500 people have been killed since the revolt began last March.  Syrian officials blame the uprising on foreign-backed armed "terrorists" who, the government says, have killed more than 2,000 security personnel.

    Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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