The Security Council must move past its “inaction” and “neglect” to the Syria
crisis and endorse an Arab League plan for a political transition there, the US
envoy to the UN said on Monday.
Ambassador Susan Rice was speaking a day
before Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby and Qatar’s prime minister
are due to plead with the 15-nation Security Council to back the league’s plan
for Syrian President Bashar Assad to transfer powers to his deputy to prepare
for free elections.
“We have seen the consequences of neglect and
inaction by this council over the course of the last 10 months, not because the
majority of the council isn’t eager to act – it has been,” Rice said. “But there
have been a couple of very powerful members who have not been willing to see
that action take place... That may yet still be the case.”
referring to Russia and China, which vetoed a European-drafted Security Council
resolution in October that would have condemned Syria and threatened it with
Russia, a UN Security Council member and one of
Syria’s few allies, said Assad’s government had agreed to talks in Moscow to end
the Syrian crisis, but a major opposition body rejected any dialogue with him,
demanding he step down.
“We rejected the Russian proposal
wanted us to talk with the regime while it continues the killings, the torture,
the imprisonment,” Walid al-Bunni, foreign affairs chief for the Syrian National
Council, told Reuters.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who will
attend Tuesday’s council meeting with Elaraby – along with French Foreign
Minister Alain Juppe and British Foreign Secretary William Hague – also urged
the council to adopt a European- Arab draft resolution
endorsing the Arab League
“The Security Council must act and make clear to the Syrian regime
that the world community views its actions as a threat to peace and security,”
Clinton said in a statement.
“The violence must end, so that a new period
of democratic transition can begin.”
The White House expressed similar
sentiments, saying it supported a political solution that would stop the
violence in Syria. Spokesman Jay Carney said Assad had lost control of his
country and predicted his regime would fall.
“We’re discussing with the
Russians and other partners how best to use all the levers at the command of the
international community and the United Nations to press the Syrian government to
stop its appalling and ultimately ineffective and harmful repression,” Carney
“It’s important that the Security Council take action... We believe that
the Security Council should not permit the Assad regime to assault the Syrian
people while it rejects the Arab League’s proposal for a political
“As governments make decisions about where they stand on this
issue and what further steps need to be taken with regards to the brutality of
the Assad regime, it’s important to calculate into your considerations the fact
that he will go. The regime has lost control of the country and will
eventually fall,” he said.
Yehuda Balanga, a Syria scholar at Bar-Ilan
University in Ramat Gan, told a conference there Monday that in the absence of a
more unified opposition and immense diplomatic pressure, Assad could survive the
uprising still in power.
“The opposition – both in Syria and in exile –
hasn’t been able to formulate an agenda and to attract the support of the
masses,” Balanga said.
“Unless a change is made in that regard – or
alternatively, influence is exerted from outside, such as the UN Security
Council or Russia – the uprising will fade away and Assad will emerge with the
On Monday, street battles raged at the gates of the Syrian
capital as Assad’s troops sought to consolidate their grip on suburbs that rebel
fighters had taken only a few kilometers from the center of government
Activists and residents said Syrian troops now had control of
Hamouriyeh, one of several districts where they have used armored vehicles and
artillery to beat back rebels who came as close as 8 km. to Damascus.
activist said the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – a force of military defectors with
links to Syria’s divided opposition – mounted scattered attacks on government
troops who advanced through the district of Saqba, held by rebels just days
“Street fighting has been raging since dawn,” he said, adding that
tanks were moving through a central avenue of the neighborhood. “The sound of
gunfire is everywhere.”
Rebels, emboldened in their struggle against
Assad’s forces, are risking heavier clashes and fierce reprisals in an attempt
to create “liberated” territories across Syria. In the past three weeks they
have taken Zabadani – a town of 40,000 in mountainous near the border with
Lebanon – but have been beaten back from the outskirts of the
“God willing, we will liberate more territory, because the
international community has only offered delayed action and empty threats,” said
a lieutenant- colonel who had defected to the FSA.
The rebels said at
least 15 people had been killed as they pulled back in Saqba and Kfar Batna.
Activists claim a death toll of more than 100 people in three days of fighting
in the districts.
The escalating bloodshed prompted the Arab League to
suspend the work of its monitors on Saturday. Arab foreign ministers are due to
discuss the crisis on February 5.
Syria’s state news agency said six
soldiers died in a single attack near Deraa in the south and “terrorists” had
blown up a gas pipeline. Pipelines have been targeted frequently during the
The SANA news agency has reported funerals of more than 70
members of the security forces members since Friday.
Residents of Deraa –
where anti-Assad unrest first flared – said firefights between army defectors
and government troops killed at least 20 people, most of them government
In Homs, the central Syrian city that has seen heavy attacks by
Assad’s forces and sectarian reprisal killings, residents said government troops
backed with armor fought rebels near its marketplace.
Elaraby, who wants
to overcome Russian and Chinese objections to the Arab plan, will be joined at
the Security Council by Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani,
whose country heads the League’s committee charged with overseeing the Syrian
Russia’s deputy foreign minister earlier on Monday said Moscow
first wanted to hear directly from the observers whom the Arab League sent – a
move likely to delay any vote.
In recent weeks the insurgency has crept
closer to the capital. The suburbs, a string of mainly conservative Sunni towns
known as al-Ghouta, are home to the bulk of the 3 million population of Damascus
and its outlying districts.
The rebel force said on Monday that medicine
and blood were running low in field hospitals, some set up in mosques, and that
advancing government forces were carrying out mass arrests.
regional ally and once unconditional supporter of Assad’s crackdown, said Assad
must be spared foreign interference to enact constitutional reforms, hold an
election and carry out other measures floated after months of
“We think that Syria has to be given the choice of time so that
by [that] time they can do the reforms,” Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said
The United Nations said in December that more than 5,000
people had been killed in the protests and crackdown.
On Friday, the UN
Security Council discussed a European- Arab draft resolution aimed at halting
the bloodshed. Britain and France want to put it to a vote next week, and a
French diplomat said it had backing of at least 10 members.
China blocked a previous Western draft resolution in October, and Moscow said it
wants a Syrian-led political process, not “an Arab League-imposed outcome” or
Libyan-style “regime change.