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U.N. resolution on Syria to be redrafted as Ban Ki-moon calls for end to bloodshed

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U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon said Sunday that President Bashar al-Assad, whose regime had absolute control over Syria until a sustained and increasingly violent challenge to its rule, must end the killings in his country.

“First and foremost, he must stop immediately the bloodshed,” Ban told reporters. “The Syrian leadership should take a decisive action at this time to stop this violence. All the violence must stop.”

Assad’s opponents have sought to ramp up pressure on the international community for UN action after the Arab League withdrew its observers amid mounting violence.

Ban called directly on Assad, saying that as leader he had an “important responsibility (to) resolve this situation (and) engage in political dialogue.”

According to an AFP tally taken from reports by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and state media, at least 232 people − among them 147 civilians − have been killed since last Tuesday.

European and Arab U.N. members early Sunday started rewriting a proposed Security Council resolution condemning Syria’s deadly crackdown on dissent after the Arab League suspended its monitoring mission in Syria.

The Arab League took the decision on Saturday days after calling on Assad to step down and make way for a government of national unity. It will take an Arab peace plan to the U.N. Security Council next week.

European countries said the withdrawal highlighted the need for U.N. action. France’s foreign minister contacted his Russia counterpart in a bid to overcome Moscow’s resistance to the draft resolution officially presented on Friday, diplomats said.

Arab League mission suspended

The Arab League suspended its observer mission because of the growing violence in Syria where Assad has launched a brutal crackdown on protests. The United Nations says thousands have died.

The United Nations said in December that more than 5,000 people had been killed in the wave of protests. Syria says more than 2,000 security force members have been killed by militants.

“Given the critical deterioration of the situation in Syria and the continued use of violence ... it has been decided to immediately stop the work of the Arab League’s mission to Syria...” Secretary-General Nabil al-Araby said in a statement.

Arab League foreign ministers are expected to discuss early next month the possibility of withdrawing monitors completely, a League official said, according to Reuters.

Syria TV cited a government official as saying Syria was surprised by the decision, which would “put pressure on (Security Council) deliberations with the aim of calling for foreign intervention and encouraging armed groups to increase violence.”

“We will work with Morocco as lead sponsor and other council members on bringing the resolution text up to date,” said a spokesman for Britain’s U.N. mission.

“The Security Council briefing on Tuesday will be the definitive Arab League view, but the suspension of the observer mission shows that they were never able to do their job properly,” the spokesman said.

Arab League secretary general Arabi and Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani will appear before the council on Tuesday to press the case for U.N. action.

The Europe-Arab resolution gives fully support to the Arab League plan to end the crisis which calls for Assad to hand over powers to a deputy. It “encourages” all states to follow sanctions adopted by the pan-Arab bloc last November.

Germany urges U.N. to issue resolution quickly

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, meanwhile, called for the United Nations to quickly issue a resolution on Syria, which has seen a spike in violence against anti-regime protesters.

“A clear reaction from the U.N. Security Council is becoming more and more urgent,” Westerwelle said in a statement.

He also called on countries that had not yet spoken out against escalating violence in Syria to do so, according to AFP.

Russia’s U.N. envoy Vitaly Churkin said the new European-Arab resolution crosses its “red lines” opposing sanctions, an arms embargo and any move toward “regime change”.

meanwhile, Russia on Sunday slammed a decision to suspend the Arab League’s observer mission in its longtime ally Syria after a deadly crackdown on anti-government protesters.

“We would like to know why they are treating such a useful instrument in this way,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on a visit to Brunei, cited by the Russian ITAR-TASS news agency.

“I would support an increased number of observers,” Lavrov said.

“We are surprised that after a decision was taken on prolonging the observers’ mission for another month, some countries, particularly Persian Gulf countries, recalled their observers from the mission.”

France’s Foreign Minister Alain Juppe sent a message to Russian counterpart Lavrov on Friday “to emphasize the importance of constructive cooperation between France and Russia” on Syria, French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said in a statement.

Several European ministers have spoken out for quick U.N. action to pass a resolution.

“Now is the time for the international community to unite, including by agreeing a United Nations Security Council Resolution this week, to make clear to President Assad and his regime that the killing must stop,” said Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague.

“A clear reaction from the U.N. Security Council is becoming more and more urgent,” Germany’s Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said.

“Everything must be done to obtain a rapid accord on the draft resolution circulated on Friday in New York,” the French spokesman, Valero, said in the statement released in Paris.

Iran calls for free polls

Iran called on Assad, a staunch ally, to hold free elections and allow multiple political parties to operate in the country, but said he must be given time to implement these reforms.

Iran had at first wholeheartedly supported Assad's hardline stance against the 10 months of popular protests.

It has since tempered its rhetoric as the uprising has dragged on and international pressure has risen, although it condemns what it calls foreign interference in Syrian affairs.

“They have to have a free election, they have to have the right constitution, they have to allow different political parties to have their activities freely in the country. And this is what he has promised,” Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said at a news conference on the sidelines of an African Union (AU) summit in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

“We think that Syria has to be given the choice of time so that by (that) time they can do the reforms,” said Salehi, whose country is an observer state at the AU and has said that strengthening ties with the AU is a foreign policy priority.