UN Is Nearing Agreement on Statement Condemning Violence by Syrian Forces
The United Nations Security Council is close to adopting a statement from its president to condemn “widespread violations of human rights and the use of force against civilians by the Syrian authorities.”
A statement from the council president, which requires unanimous consent from all 15 members, doesn’t carry the same weight as a resolution, which was sought by European nations and the U.S. and opposed by Russia.
Lebanon, the only Arab country on the council, has a pro- Syria government and could still object.
The UN decision-making body would express “grave concern at the deteriorating situation in Syria” and “profound regret at the death of many hundreds of people,” according to a copy of the statement obtained by Bloomberg News. It is to be read at 3 p.m. in New York by India’s UN ambassador, Hardeep Singh Puri, who holds the monthly rotating presidency.
The Security Council also asked Secretary-General Ban Ki- moon for an update on the situation in Syria within seven days.
The statement “contains an unambiguous and clear-cut call to end all sorts of violence,” Russia’s UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, told reporters on his way out of the meeting.
After two days of discussions, the 15-member body ironed out some of their disagreements over how to react to the deadliest episodes in the uprising that started in mid-March.
‘Stop a Massacre’
A fresh wave of attacks that began on July 31, the eve of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, resumed early today in Hama, the fourth-biggest city, said Ammar Qurabi of the National Organization for Human Rights and Mahmoud Merhi, head of the Arab Organization for Human Rights.
“The gap between what needs to done to stop a massacre and what U.S. and the European Union are actually doing couldn’t be larger,” said Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center, a Qatar branch of the Washington research institution. “If the regime continues moving into Hama, international pressure will continue to mount and perhaps that will force Russia and China’s hand. But then what?”
With at least 12 more protesters killed in Syria yesterday, pressure has been mounting on the UN’s most important body to take a stand against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Sticking points in the discussion were the extent of violence by both sides and attempts by Russia to equate attempted action on Syria with Libya, where the Security Council in March authorized “all necessary measures” to protect to protect civilians from forces loyal to dictator Muammar Qaddafi.
Assad’s crackdown is the bloodiest since Syrians began to demonstrate following unrest across the Arab world that ousted the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt.
“With even Syria’s close allies expressing concern, let’s hope this is the wakeup call that President Assad finally answers,” Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director for New York- based Human Rights Watch said in an interview. “In our view access to Syria for human rights monitors is a key test of whether or not the Security Council message has been received.”
The Security Council calls on the Syrian authorities to allow aid agencies, which have been prevented from entering the country, “unhindered access” for humanitarian relief.
The security forces have killed at least 176 people in the last three days, most of them in Hama, where tanks shelled residential areas, including mosques, said Qurabi and Merhi.
“Grotesque and Appalling”
White House press secretary Jay Carney today dubbed Assad’s actions “grotesque and appalling” and said, “The U.S. has nothing invested in Assad remaining in power.”
The U.S. has been looking at ways to bolster existing sanctions against the Syrian regime even as the administration has held back from explicitly calling on Assad to go. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who on July 11 became the first senior administration official to say Assad had lost legitimacy, met in Washington yesterday with Syrian-American opposition supporters.
While U.S. lawmakers announced new sanctions legislation against the Assad government, U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, who met with Obama two days ago, told senators at his confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill yesterday that unilateral U.S. sanctions “don’t have much bite” because there is so little trade between the two countries.
Ford, a fluent Arabic speaker who visited Hama last month in a show of solidarity for protesters, will be returning to the Syrian capital “in the next couple of days,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters today.
More than 2,100 protesters have been killed in Syria since March, according to Merhi and Qurabi. More than 500 members of the security forces have been killed, Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal Mekdad said in an interview with India’s News X channel.
The recent assault came as opposition forces vowed to step up their campaign against Assad during Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting and prayer. Family and community groups typically gather for evening meals during the month to break their fasts, and more people attend special services at mosques.
The unrest poses the biggest challenge to Assad’s rule since he inherited power from his father, Hafez al-Assad, 11 years ago. Assad has blamed the protests on foreign-inspired plots, while conceding that some demonstrators have legitimate demands and pledging political changes.
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