Saudi Arabia circulated a draft resolution backing an Arab peace plan for Syria among members of the U.N. General Assembly on Friday after a similar text was vetoed in the Security Council last week by Russia and China, diplomats said.
The new draft appeared as two advisers to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon repeated a warning that Syrian government attacks on civilians could amount to crimes against humanity.
Like the failed council resolution, the assembly draft “fully supports” the Arab League plan floated last month, which among other things calls for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step aside to help end 11 months of violence in the country.
Russia and China cast their vetoes in the council last Saturday saying the draft there was unbalanced and failed to blame Syria’s opposition, along with the government, for violence that has killed over 5,000 people, according to U.N. figures.
There are no vetoes in the General Assembly. The 193-nation body’s resolutions have no legal force, unlike those of the Security Council, but were the Syria text to pass it would add to pressure on Assad and his government.
The assembly is due to discuss Syria on Monday, when it will be addressed by U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay. Diplomats said the resolution was not expected to be voted on then, but that there could be a vote later next week.
The assembly draft, seen by Reuters, broadly follows the one voted down in the council. While calling for an end to violence by all sides, it lays blame primarily on the Syrian authorities, whom it strongly condemns for “continued widespread and systematic violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
The draft urges accountability for those guilty of human rights violations, but makes no specific mention of the International Criminal Court, to which Pillay has said Syrian officials should be sent. Only the Security Council can refer Syria to the court - an unlikely move given its divisions.
In one addition to the council text, the assembly draft invites Secretary-General Ban to appoint a special envoy for Syria - a proposal that Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby put to the U.N. chief earlier this week.
In a statement, Francis Deng, Ban’s adviser on prevention of genocide, and Edward Luck, his adviser on the responsibility to protect, said they were alarmed by Syrian security forces’ “indiscriminate fire” on densely populated areas of the city of Homs.
Reiterating a warning from last July, they said such attacks could
constitute crimes against humanity under international law. “The presence of armed elements among the population does not render attacks against civilians legal,” they said.
On Friday, a Western diplomat said the Arab League is likely to launch a “Friends of Syria” coalition and appoint a special envoy to Syria at a meeting this weekend,.
The diplomat also said that Iranians were “on the ground”, giving technical help to Syrian intelligence services, and warned that Assad’s regime had yet to use “many levels of violence.”
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the diplomat said that at an Arab League meeting due Sunday “it looks like they’re preparing to appoint a special envoy. We encourage that and look forward to working with whoever they nominate.
“It looks like there may be a proposal for a Friends of Syria group or some such group to be decided on by the Arab League.”
In Paris, French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero confirmed the reports.
Proof of government attacks
Meanwhile, the U.S. ambassador to Syria, just days after closing the embassy in Damascus, posted satellite imagery on Facebook to show proof of government attacks on residential neighborhoods.
The commercial satellite image, titled “Security Operations Escalate in Homs,” is dated Feb. 6 and has labels pointing out burning buildings, smoke, impact craters, military vehicles and armored vehicles.
The western Syrian city of Homs, where opposition to President Bashar al-Assad is strong, has endured a week of bombardments that have killed dozens of civilians and drawn condemnation from world leaders.
Syrian state media have portrayed the revolt against Assad as the work of foreign-backed “terrorists.”
It is not easy for an untrained eye to see the details in the satellite image posted on Thursday night on the Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10150600575457649&set=pu.48261722648&type=1&theater
“I hear the devastating stories about newborns in Homs dying in hospitals where electricity has been cut and when we see disturbing photos offering proof that the regime is using mortars and artillery against residential neighborhoods, all of us become even more concerned about the tragic outcome for Syrian civilians,” Ambassador Robert Ford wrote in a note accompanying the satellite image on Facebook.
He also appeared to take a veiled dig at Russia, which on Saturday vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria. Diplomats said one Russian objection was a belief that the resolution disproportionately blamed Syria's government for the violence.
“It is odd to me that anyone would try to equate the actions of the Syrian army and armed opposition groups since the Syrian government consistently initiates the attacks on civilian areas, and it is using its heaviest weapons,” Ford wrote.
The United States closed its embassy in Damascus on Monday, the same day the imagery was dated, due to security concerns.