Middle East

Western nations pressing Russia on Syria UN resolution

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Media captionThe BBC's James Robbins says there will be days of grinding negotiation

Attempts are being made at the United Nations Security Council to persuade Russia not to veto endorsement of an Arab League peace plan for Syria.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Council members must decide whether they support the Syrian people or "a brutal, dictatorial regime."

But Russia's UN envoy, Vitaly Churkin, has voiced strong reservations.

Meanwhile in Syria, one activist group says 43 people have been killed by security forces in fresh clashes.

After days of efforts by government troops to regain full control of Damascus' eastern suburbs, activists say the focus has now shifted to areas to the north-west of the capital, the BBC's Jim Muir in neighbouring Lebanon reports.

They said towns in the Wadi Barada valley came under heavy attack and bombardment and that 21 people were killed.

Casualties reported elsewhere include at least five members of the rebel Free Syrian Army killed in a clash with security forces.

State media said troops killed 11 "terrorists" who tried to attack a supply convoy in the south.

Human rights groups and activists say more than 7,000 people have been killed by Syrian security forces since the uprising began in March.

The UN stopped estimating the death toll after it passed 5,400 in January, saying it was too difficult to confirm.

The government says at least 2,000 members of the security forces have been killed combating "armed gangs and terrorists".

'Rise for hope'

On Tuesday, Western foreign ministers spoke in favour of a draft Security Council resolution calling on President Bashar al-Assad to give up power.

The BBC's James Robbins at UN headquarters in New York says foreign ministers chose to take the place of their country's permanent representatives in the Security Council Chamber to make a big political point.

Image caption Moscow's position is that both the government and opposition are equally to blame for the violence

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged members to support the Arab League's efforts to end the bloodshed in Syria.

"It is time for the international community to put aside our own differences and send a clear message of support to the people of Syria,'' she said.

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said the League's plan - which calls on Mr Assad to surrender power to his deputy, who would help form a unity government that would prepare for elections - was credible.

The Gulf state of Qatar also urged the Security Council to take action.

"The government killing machine continues effectively unabated," Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani said.

Our correspondent says the problem is that Russia rejects this approach.

Mr Churkin, the country's permanent representative, argued that no part of the UN charter could dictate "what king needs to resign or what prime minister needs to step down".

But he said he had "found some of the elements" of an earlier Russian draft resolution on Syria in the current text, "and that gives rise for hope".

"We hope that the council will come to consensus on the Syrian issue," he added.

Our correspondent says efforts to persuade Russia not to veto the draft will now mean days of grinding negotiation.

They may not succeed unless Russia judges it risks damaging isolation, he adds.

On Wednesday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov told the Interfax news agency there would be no vote "in the next days".

'Armed elements'

Meanwhile, a leaked report by the head of the Arab League observer mission in Syria, which was suspended on 18 January, says some of the 166 monitors were not qualified and not properly equipped.

Image caption The Arab League report said both sides were issuing "unfounded statements" reporting violence

"Regrettably, some observers thought that their visit to Syria was for pleasure," wrote Sudanese Gen Mohammed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi, according to a copy obtained by Foreign Policy magazine.

"In some instances, experts who were nominated were not qualified for the job, did not have prior experience, and were not able to shoulder the responsibility," he added.

Gen Dabi also wrote that the observers were subjected to a "ferocious campaign", which meant they suffered a "political and information support", and that the authorities tried to limit their access.

However, the general also noted that there was undoubtedly an "armed element" attacking security forces and civilians in some areas, which he said was "the direct result of the government's forces' excessive use of force" and "came in response to calls for a regime change".

"The mission noticed that many parties issued unfounded statements reporting bombings and acts of violence in some areas," he added.

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