The UN Security Council was to meet yesterday to discuss the next move on Syria and council envoys said members would be given a new Western-Arab draft resolution, as fighting between troops and rebels edged closer to Syria’s capital, Damascus.
Morocco was expected to distribute at the meeting the new draft resolution that supports the Arab League’s call for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to transfer his powers to his deputy to set up a unity government and prepare for elections, after a 10-month crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators.
“The UN Security Council will meet in closed consultations in New York to discuss steps to take on the situation in Syria,” France’s UN mission said on its Twitter page.
The Security Council could vote as early as next week on the resolution, which diplomats from Britain and France are crafting in consultation with Qatar, Morocco, the US, Germany and Portugal, envoys said. It replaces a Russian text that Western diplomats say is too weak.
The Moroccan delegation met on Thursday with Russian and Chinese diplomats to present them with the latest version of the draft, council diplomats said. It was not immediately clear what their initial response was.
The draft called for a “political transition,” but not for UN sanctions against Damascus, something Moscow has said it would not support.
Russia, together with China, vetoed a European-drafted resolution in October that condemned Syria and threatened it with sanctions. It is unclear whether Russia is ready to wield its veto again to block council action on Syria.
Several Western envoys said that Russia might find it difficult to veto a resolution that is simply intended to provide support for the Arab League.
Clashes between rebels and security forces in the Damascus suburb of Douma, a hotbed of protests and armed rebellion against Assad, raged throughout the day on Thursday, and gunfire was heard from central Damascus during the night.
Activists said army deployment and clashes in townships around Damascus were a response to the insurgents’ growing strength.
“The Free Syrian Army has almost complete control of some areas of the Damascus countryside and some control in Douma and Harasta,” an activist said by telephone from Harasta.
Other activists in Douma, Harasta and Irbin said security forces had gathered in their towns after rebels retreated because they could not fight pitched battles with the army.
Arab League monitors, now without 55 Persian Gulf Arab colleagues withdrawn by their governments this week in protest at continued bloodshed, were resuming work after a one-week gap during which the Arab League prolonged their mission by another month.
A group of Arab observers stopped at an entrance to the Damascus suburb of Irbin, where a dozen soldiers stood guard. Beyond them a crowd of about 100 anti-Assad protesters shouted slogans. The troops showed the monitors the bodies of a soldier and another person they said had been killed in the morning.
The observers drove away without going into the township.
Elsewhere, three people were killed in Homs, a sniper killed a 58-year-old woman in Hama and a 14-year-old boy was killed in the southern city of Daraa, the British-based opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
State news agency SANA said “terrorists” had assassinated a colonel in Homs and detonated a bomb in Daraa Province, killing an army lieutenant as he tried to defuse it.
Also in Homs, militiamen loyal to Assad killed 14 members of a Sunni family on Thursday in one of the grizzliest sectarian attacks of the uprising, activists and residents said.
Eight children, aged eight months to nine years old, were among 14 Bahader family members shot or hacked to death in a building in the mixed Karm al-Zeitoun neighborhood, they said.
The militiamen, known as shabbiha, entered the district after loyalist forces fired heavy mortar rounds on the area, killing another 16 people, residents and activists in the city said.
Tit-for-tat sectarian killings began in Homs, 140km north of Damascus, four months ago, following armored military assaults on Sunni areas of the city by forces led by members of Assad’s minority Alawite sect.
The killings have raised the prospect of the pro-democracy protest movement against al-Assad turning into a civil war, as his opponents take up arms and fight back against loyalist forces.
The Alawite community, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, has dominated politics and the security apparatus in Syria, a mostly Sunni country of 20 million people, for the last five decades.