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Middle east

Clashes rage in Syria as Russia delays UN vote

Video by Lucy FIELDER

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2012-02-01

The latest wave of violent clashes in Syria left dozens dead on Wednesday as Russia told Western powers and the Arab League that a UN vote on a tough resolution against President Bashar al-Assad would need more time.

AFP - Fresh bloodshed swept Syria on Wednesday after Western powers and the Arab League demanded immediate UN action to stop the regime's "killing machine" but holdout Russia said any vote needed more time.

Wrangling at the United Nations came as fierce clashes raged across Syria's powder keg regions between President Bashar al-Assad's security forces and rebel fighters of the Free Syrian Army.

At least eight civilians and 15 soldiers were killed during fierce fighting in the central Syrian city of Homs, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Activists said the unrest had killed nearly 200 people nationwide over the previous three days.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, backed by her French and British counterparts and Qatar's premier, led the charge on Tuesday for a tough UN resolution that would call on Assad to end the bloodshed and hand over power.

"We all know that change is coming to Syria. Despite its ruthless tactics, the Assad regime's reign of terror will end," Clinton told the UN Security Council.

"The question for us is: how many more innocent civilians will die before this country is able to move forward?"

But on Wednesday, Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov appeared to snuff out any hopes of an early vote.

"Attempts are being made to find a text that is acceptable to all sides and would help find a political solution for the situation in Syria. Therefore there is going to be no vote in the next days," he told Interfax news agency.

Analysts warn that the conflict, between a guerrilla movement backed by growing numbers of army deserters and a regime increasingly bent on repression, has largely eclipsed the peaceful protests seen at the start of the uprising.

"It is the beginning of an all-out armed conflict," said Joshua Landis, head of the Centre for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma.

"We are heading toward real chaos," he added. "The Syrian public in general is beginning to (realise) that there isn't a magic ending to this, there isn't a regime collapse."

The United Nations says more than 5,400 people have been killed in Syria since the pro-democracy uprising began in mid-March .

But UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said on January 25 her organisation had stopped compiling a death toll for Syria's crackdown on the protests because it is too difficult to get information.

Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al-Thani, speaking at the Security Council on behalf of the Arab League, said Assad's regime had "failed to make any sincere effort" to end the crisis and believed the only solution was "to kill its own people."

"Bloodshed continued and the killing machine is still at work," he said.

But Russia, a longstanding ally of Assad and one of the regime's top suppliers of weapons, declared that the UN body did not have the authority to impose such a resolution. China voiced support for Russia's position.

Moscow's ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, argued that Syria should "be able to decide for itself" and said the council "cannot impose the parameters for an internal settlement. It simply does not have the mandate to do so."

The key sticking point appeared to be the Arab League call for Assad's speedy departure. "Regime change is not our profession," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said during a trip to Australia.

The draft resolution, introduced by Arab League member Morocco, calls for the formation of a unity government leading to "transparent and free elections."

It stresses that there will be no foreign military intervention in Syria as there was in Libya, which helped to topple Moamer Kadhafi.

Meanwhile, the Free Syrian Army said half of the country was now effectively a no-go zone for the security forces.

"Fifty percent of Syrian territory is no longer under the control of the regime," its Turkey-based commander Colonel Riyadh al-Asaad told AFP.

Syria's Al-Watan newspaper on Wednesday gave a rundown of dozens of deaths on the two sides in clashes in Homs and elsewhere in central Syria over the past two days.

Thirty-seven rebels were killed in the Adawiyeh, Bab Dreib and Dawar Fakhura districts of Homs, it said.

It said rebel fighters armed with anti-tank missiles, thermobaric grenades, mortars and machineguns destroyed two BMB armoured cars and set ablaze a third, "killing all its crew."

Four soldiers were killed in an attack on a checkpoint in Bab Dreib, Al-Watan said, while 15 rebels and two members of the security forces died in clashes in Rastan, another town in central Syria.

Date created : 2012-02-01

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