News / Middle East

UN Talks on Syria Stall Again

U.N. Security Council
U.N. Security Council

Ambassadors to the United Nations Security Council have failed to reach agreement on a draft European-Arab resolution to end the bloodshed in Syria, after a third straight session of talks.

U.N. envoys said Thursday the latest revisions are now being drafted for them to send to their capitals for consideration.

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said the decision to send a draft back to governments "does not prejudge in any way" whether approval is likely. The U.S. envoy, Susan Rice, also played down expectations, saying there still are some complicated issues "that our capitals will have to deliberate on."

A previous draft had said the Council "fully supports" an Arab League proposal for a political transition in Syria, but no longer included an explicit call for President Bashar al-Assad to delegate his powers and form a unity government ahead of elections. Churkin told a closed-door session of the world body Thursday that Moscow will veto the draft if it is submitted with the phrase "fully supports" still intact.

Russia, a veto-wielding member of the Security Council, has promised to reject any text that hints at regime change or that does not explicitly rule out foreign military intervention.

Also Thursday, Russia's deputy defense minister ((Anatoly Antonov)) said Moscow will keep selling arms to Syria despite mounting international condemnation of Mr. Assad's bloody crackdown on an 11-month opposition uprising. A clause in the U.N. draft resolution expressing "grave concern at the continued transfer of weapons into Syria" was stricken from the text.

Earlier, despite a heavy security clampdown in the central Syrian city of Hama, protesters splashed red paint symbolizing blood in the streets to commemorate Hafez al-Assad's February 1982 assault on the rebellious city. Amnesty International has estimated that between 10,000 and 25,000 people were killed in the siege, although conflicting figures exist and the Syrian government has never published an official toll.

The incident carried out by Mr. Assad's late father is considered one of the most infamous massacres in the modern Middle East.

Residents said Hama was completely shut down Thursday, with schools and shops closed and employees staying home. Activists painted at least two streets red and threw red dye into the waters of Hama's famous and ancient water wheels. Internet footage showed graffiti that read, "Hafez died, and Hama didn't. Bashar will die, and Hama won't."

Hafez al-Assad was fighting a violent Islamist uprising in which the banned Muslim Brotherhood and its armed wing made a last stand in Hama against his iron-fisted rule. For many of Syria's Sunni Muslim majority, Hama is synonymous with an assault on their religion by the elder Assad, whose family belongs to the minority Shi'ite Alawite sect they deem heretical.

In contrast, the current unrest began with months of peaceful protests that have since given way to an armed uprising intent on ousting Mr. Assad from power.

The Syrian government accuses armed terrorists of driving the anti-Assad revolt and killing 2,000 security personnel. The United Nations estimated the death toll from the unrest at 5,400 last month, before it stopped updating the figure because of difficulties in obtaining information.

More than 300 people were killed nationwide during the past week alone. Much of the violence has occurred near Damascus as government troops drove the rebel Free Syrian Army out of the city's eastern suburbs during several days of heavy fighting.

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