A new Arab and European bid to secure UN action over Syria’s crackdown on dissent hit immediate Russian opposition even as the death toll spiked, with activists reporting 120 people killed in two days.
The Gulf Arab states and Turkey, which have spearheaded regional condemnation of the Damascus regime, were to meet in Istanbul yesterday for talks expected to be dominated by the quest for a tough UN Security Council resolution.
However, Syria’s Cold War ally Russia made clear that the Arab and European draft formally submitted by Morocco late on Friday crossed “our red lines,” raising the prospect of lengthy wrangling over the wording of the text, which its supporters want put to the vote in the next week.
The head of an Arab League monitoring mission said unrest had soared this week “in a significant way,” especially in the flashpoint central cities of Homs and Hama and in the northern Idlib region.
The violence, which on Friday for the first time also cost lives in Aleppo, Syria’s second-largest city, “does not help ... to get all sides to sit at the negotiating table,” General Mohammed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi said.
Backers of the new resolution hope that critics — who also include India and South Africa — will be swayed by the tough new stance of the Arab League, which last weekend demanded that Assad hand his powers to his deputy to pave the way for a national unity government ahead of elections.
The same model has been adopted in the Arab world’s poorest country, Yemen, in a bid to stem even longer-running unrest there.
The new text “fully supports” the Arab League plan and “encourages” all states to follow sanctions adopted by the pan-Arab bloc last November, but contains no mandatory action.
Russia’s UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin said the wording crossed “our red lines, where we cannot go.”
He said Moscow opposed any hint of sanctions, an arms embargo or “regime change” and was critical of the Arab League, accusing it of seeking to “impose” a solution on President Bashar al-Assad.
Meanwhile, the bodies of 17 men arrested by Assad’s forces during an armored assault this week on the city of Hama were found dumped in the streets after being shot in the head, activists said yesterday.
The reported killings mark an escalation in a five-month military crackdown on Hama, 240km north of Damascus, where armed rebels are now backing protesters after tanks stormed the conservative Sunni Muslim city in August.
“They were killed execution style, mostly with one bullet to the head. Iron chains that had tied them were left on their legs as a message to the people to stop resisting,” said Abu al-Walid, an activist in the city.
Another activist said the bodies, their hands tied by plastic wire and some with their legs chained, were dumped in the streets of five Hama neighbourhoods on Thursday evening.
“They are of mixed ages. One was in his 60s, another in his 40s and several were in their 20s,” he said, adding that only three had been identified, one of whom was a police deserter.