A divided UN Security Council to meet on Syria
NEW YORK // Syria was under growing international pressure to halt its crackdown on protesters on Wednesday after UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon and Western members of the Security Council called for an end to the violence.
The council's European members were pushing for the 15-nation body to adopt a statement condemning attacks on Syrian demonstrators, but are expected to face opposition from Russia, China and Lebanon at a meeting later on Wednesday.
The United States ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, called the violence against Syrian civilians "abhorrent and deplorable" on Tuesday night and said Washington was considering a fresh round of unilateral sanctions against Damascus.
She compared Syrian suppression to the tactics employed by its neighbour and ally, Iran, detailing "evidence of active Iranian involvement and support on behalf of the Syrian government and its repression of its people".
Speaking after Tuesdays's violence in Syria that raised the death toll to more than 350, Mr Ban said: "I condemn, utterly, the continuing violence" and criticised the use of "tanks and live fire" on crowds.
Council members were to meet later on Wednesday to discuss a draft statement from France, Germany, Portugal and Britain that calls on Syrian President Bashar al Assad to exercise restraint and prosecute those behind the violence.
But such a statement requires agreement from all council members, and they face opposition from Russia and China, who view the protests as an internal matter that should be handled by Syria's security forces.
China's ambassador to the UN, Li Baodong, called for a "political solution" to end the crisis. Lebanon, the only Arab country on the Security Council, is deeply intertwined with Syrian politics and is expected to oppose council action, diplomats said.
After weeks of exceptional activity in which the Security Council has authorised military interventions in Libya and Ivory Coast, the UN's top body is starting to show signs of inertia now faced with the uprisings in Syria and Yemen.
Russia has said the western-led coalition launching air raids on Libya is overstepping the mandate to protect civilians and has expressed concerns about authorising more Middle East actions.
After a council meeting late on Tuesday, Syria's UN ambassador, Bashar Ja'afari, defended his government's record and said the UN body "shouldn't rely on media reports". Armed groups have infiltrated the protesters, and have shot and killed "dozens and dozens of security officers" who have the right to defend themselves, he said.
"We want the unrest to end. We, too, we regret that there have been some casualties among the civilians," Mr Ja'afari said. "Unlike other leaders, President Assad is a reformer himself and he should be given the chance to fulfil his mission."
Salil Shetty, head of the pressure group Amnesty International, said Syria's government was using violence to "shatter the will" of protesters and urged the Security Council to refer atrocities to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
"President Assad and those around him have to understand that their actions will have consequences, namely that if they gun down their own citizens the international community will hold them individually criminally responsible before the ICC or national courts of states exercising universal jurisdiction," she said.
Updated: April 27, 2011 04:00 AM