The UN General Assembly last night voted to condemn Syria’s bombardments of rebel-held neighbourhoods in what seemed the last gasp of international diplomacy following special envoy Kofi Annan’s resignation.
The non-binding, but symbolic, resolution adopted at the UN last night condemned Syria’s use of heavy weapons in cities and backed Mr Annan’s demand that the regime should take the first step towards peace.
Diplomats said the original text, which was sponsored by Arab nations, had to be weakened to garner 133 votes in favour, with 12 against and 31 abstentions.
Two key provisions – calls for President Bashar Al Assad to resign and for nations to individually impose sanctions – were dropped from the resolution.
But the revised text took a strong stance, “deploring the Security Council failure” to act – a thinly veiled swipe at Russia and China who have both vetoed stronger measures against Syria in the past.
Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, yesterday criticised the Security Council, which he said had become “paralysed” by divisions.
As diplomats voted in New York, the violence in Syria showed no sign of abating.
Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, yesterday denounced a “heinous” attack on a Palestinian refugee camp in the Syrian capital, which killed 21 civilians.
"We condemn the heinous crime committed against our people in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, in which dozens of unarmed civilians were killed and wounded," in a mortar attack late on Thursday, his office said.
Fighting between rebels and government troops killed at least 105 people yesterday across the country, activists said.
Mr Annan was scathing in assessing blame as he announced he would leave his position as joint UN-Arab League envoy at the end of the month. He blasted Damascus for breaking its promises to implement his peace plan and castigated major powers. He also had sharp words for those countries backing the rebels, widely seen as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey.
Before yesterday's vote, Bashar Ja'afri, the Syrian ambassador, said it was a "strange irony that the sponsoring states of the resolution, under combating armed conflict, have played a major role by providing weapons to terrorist groups in Syria".
Russia's foreign ministry said yesterday that "a worthy candidate to succeed Kofi Annan should be urgently found".
"In the developing situation, keeping a UN presence in the country acquires special significance," it said.
"At this stage, what is most important is not to allow the slackening of international efforts to solve the crisis in Syria."
Mr Annan took up his assignment on March 1 with little illusion about how difficult his task would be. At a stop in Ankara on March 12, he told reporters: "We all have to understand that this is a very complex situation. It's not going to be easy."
He did manage to arrange a ceasefire on April 12 that unravelled within days. In an opinion piece in the Financial Times on Thursday, he wrote that "contrary to some claims, the government's shelling of civilian communities stopped, demonstrating the impact this unity could have".
But he blamed the ceasefire's collapse on a lack of "sustained international support" leading the government to realise "there would be no consequences if it returned to an overt military campaign".
As the conflict expanded, Mr Annan grew increasingly pessimistic as the mix of the bitter West-Russia divide on the Security Council, broken promises by the Syrian government and the infusion of better and more arms to rebels from the region made a diplomatic solution increasingly elusive.
In the end Mr Annan acknowledged that his peace plan — on which the world had pinned faint hope for a diplomatic settlement — had failed.
"Military means alone will not end the crisis," he wrote in the opinion piece. "The distribution of force and the divisions in Syrian society are such that only a serious negotiated political transition can hope to end the repressive rule of the past and avoid a future descent into a vengeful sectarian war."
Mr Annan said "a political process is difficult, if not impossible, while all sides - within and without Syria - see opportunity to advance their narrow agendas by military means."
Russia has accused the West of having "fanned the flames of extremists and terrorist groups" in pursuit of "their own geopolitical designs", while western envoys blamed Moscow for supporting a serial human rights abuser in Damascus and of falsely accusing the West of planning military intervention.
"Annan correctly read that neither side has an interest in any brokered way to end the fighting, that the Council was frozen, and the big powers at loggerheads," said George Lopez, a political scientist at Notre Dame University in the US. "He also sees that the conflict will get more bloody, more chaotic and deteriorate into a hurting stalemate where neither side can win, but can inflict damage on the other, and spread mayhem generally."
Confirming those fears, William Hague, the British Foreign Secretary, acknowledged that diplomacy had failed and told the BBC Britain would be stepping up non-lethal aid to the rebels.
Ray Takeyh, an analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, said only a prolonged military stalemate leading to exhaustion on both sides might revive diplomacy.
"This is a civil war and somebody will lose and somebody will win," he said. "Perhaps if it goes on longer there will be appetite for a regional or international settlement but not for the moment."
As a mediator intending to bring both sides to the table, Mr Annan took a middle course that brought him condemnation from the opposition and lip service from the government as it fought to contain the uprising. He was burnt in effigy by the rebels and blamed on a regular basis for allowing massacres to take place.
Despite Mr Annan's frustrations, the UN and Arab League are already in the process of finding a replacement. Asked who might want to take on such a job, Mr Annan told reporters: "Let me say that the world is full of crazy people like me, so don't be surprised if someone else decides to take it on, and I am sure secretary general Ban Ki-moon will find somebody who could perhaps even do a better job than I have done."
with additional reporting by Agence France-Presse and Associated Press