Russia seeks to slow UN action on Syria

Street battles continue around Damascus as troops regain neighborhoods captured by rebels; Russian deputy FM: Moscow wants more time to study Arab League plan, says draft resolution is unacceptable in its current form.

A defected Syrian soldier holds a rifle and flag 390 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah )
A defected Syrian soldier holds a rifle and flag 390 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah )
Russia sought to avert a swift UN Security Council vote on a Western-Arab resolution on Syria as street battles continued to rage on the doorstep of Damascus Monday.
On the ground, Syrian President Bashar Assad's troops sought to consolidate their grip on suburbs rebel fighters had taken only a few miles from the center of the regime's power.
Activists and residents said Syrian troops now had control of Hamouriyeh, one of a cluster of districts where they have used armored vehicles and artillery to beat back rebels who came as close as eight km (five miles) to Damascus.
An activist said the Free Syrian Army - a force of military defectors with links to Syria's divided political 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 tanks were moving through a central avenue of the neighborhood. "The sound of gunfire is everywhere."
The rebels said at least 15 people had been killed as they pulled back in Saqba and Kfar Batna. Activists have claimed a death toll of several dozen in three days of fighting in the districts, which have seen repeated protests against Assad's rule and crackdowns by troops on the 10-month-old uprising.
The escalating bloodshed prompted the Arab League to suspend the work of its monitors on Saturday. Arab foreign ministers, who have urged Assad to step down and make way for a government of national unity, will discuss the crisis on February 5.
Syria's state news agency said "terrorists" blew up a gas pipeline, a frequent target during the uprising against Assad, and residents of the southern city of Deraa - where unrest first erupted - said army defectors and government troops were waging gun battles that left at least 20 dead, most of them government forces.
Syria restricts access to the country for journalists and the numbers could not be immediately verified.
Russia wants more time before UN resolution
Also Monday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov spoke a day before Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby was to brief Security Council members to seek support for the Arab League plan to end 10 months of bloodshed in which more than 5,000 people have been killed.
Western powers Britain and France want the Security Council to vote next week on a draft resolution supporting the Arab League plan's call for Assad to step down. Elaraby has said he hopes to overcome resistance from Beijing and Moscow.
But Gatilov said recommendations from Arab monitors in Syria, led by Sudanese General Mohammed al-Dabi, should be presented to council members including Russia, which he said had not been informed of the mission's findings.
"It would be logical, considering the complexity of this issue, for Security Council members to be able to study the recommendations and conclusions of the observer mission in detail," the Interfax news agency quoted him as saying.
"Only after that would it be possible to count on a substantive discussion of this issue in the Security Council."
A permanent Security Council member with veto power, Russia has been increasingly isolated in support for Assad as the crackdown on pro-democracy protesters goes on.
Gatilov said on Friday the Western-Arab draft resolution was unacceptable in its current form and that an attempt to rush it to a vote would fail, signaling it could use its veto to block the proposal if it remains unchanged.
Assad's resignation must not be a precondition of a peace process in Syria, he said.
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