US urges UNSC to end 'neglect,' act on Syria

Activists balk after Russia says Assad agreed to talks with opposition in Moscow; White House: Assad will fall.

United Nations Security Council 311 (R) (photo credit: Mike Segar / Reuters)
United Nations Security Council 311 (R)
(photo credit: Mike Segar / Reuters)
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.”
Rice was referring to Russia and China, which vetoed a European-drafted Security Council resolution in October that would have condemned Syria and threatened it with possible sanctions.
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 because they 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 plan.
“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 said.
“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 solution.
“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 upper hand.”
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 power.
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.
An 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 ago.
“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 capital.
“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 uprising.
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 forces.
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.

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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 crisis.
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.
Iran, Syria’s 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 killing.
“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 on Sunday.
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.
Russia and 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.