Russia drafts new U.N. resolution to extend Syria mission as death toll mounts


Russia circulated among U.N. Security Council members early Wednesday a draft resolution to extend a U.N. mission in Syria for three months so it can shift focus from monitoring a non-existent truce to securing a political solution to the conflict, as violent crackdown left more deaths across the country.

As many as 34 people have been killed by the fire of Syrian forces across the country. The new toll comes one day after 68 people were killed, mostly in Deir Ezzor, Damascus suburbs, Aleppo and Homs, Al Arabiya reported citing Syrian activists.

Meanwhile, heavy clashes were reported early Wednesday between government forces and the Free Syrian Army in al-Qadam neighborhood in Damascus, according to the Syrian Media Center.

The deeply divided Security Council must decide the future of the mission, known as UNSMIS, before July 20 when its initial 90-day mandate expires. International envoy Kofi Annan is due to brief the council on Wednesday on his bid to broker peace in Syria.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have killed more than 15,000 people since a crackdown on pro-democracy protesters began in March 2011, some Western leaders say. Syrian activists put the number at 17,000 deaths. Damascus says rebels have killed several thousand of its security forces.

The Russian draft resolution, received by Al Arabiya, is unlikely to satisfy the United States and European council members, who have called for a resolution under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which allows the council to authorize actions ranging from diplomatic and economic sanctions to military intervention.

The Russian draft “strongly urges” all sides to immediately cease violence and calls for “urgent” and “immediate” implementation of Annan’s plan.

The draft commits the Security Council “to assess the implementation of this resolution and to consider further steps as appropriate.”

U.S. officials have said they are talking about sanctions on Syria, not military intervention.

Russia’s Deputy U.N. Ambassador Alexander Pankin said a resolution under Chapter 7 would be “counterproductive” in what he described as a “delicate situation.” Russia and China have previously vetoed U.N. resolutions designed to pressure Assad.

“There is no mention of Chapter 7 (in the Russian draft) and that’s a matter of principle for us because we believe the special envoy is doing a commendable job,” Pankin told Reuters. “(The draft) is a continuation of the mission bearing in mind the recommendations of the Secretary-General.”

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon has recommended the emphasis of UNSMIS’ work shift from military observers -- who suspended most of their monitoring activities on June 16 because of increased risk amid rising violence - to the roughly 100 civilian staff focusing on a political solution and issues like human rights.

The mission would keep its current mandate for up to 300 unarmed observers under this option, but significantly fewer likely would be needed to support the new focus.

The Russian draft resolution does not specify a number but “stresses the need for UNSMIS to have a military observer capability to conduct effective verification and fact-finding tasks.”

It “calls upon all Syrian parties to guarantee the safety of UNSMIS personnel without prejudice to its freedom of movement and access, and stresses that the primary responsibility in this regard lies with the Syrian authorities.”

The resolution stressed “that it is for the Syrian people to find a political solution and that the Syrian parties must be prepared to put forward effective and mutually acceptable interlocutors” to work with Annan toward an agreement.

Western nations have been demanding pressure on Assad to carry out Annan's peace plan and are likely to reject the Russian text.

“It’s basically a rollover,” said a diplomat from another Security Council country of the Russian draft, according to AFP. “At minimum, it needs to be combined with some pressure.”

“The council will need to address the Syria situation in a more comprehensive way,” he said.

The United States and European powers have drafted their own resolution, but have not yet decided whether to circulate it to the council.

Annan met with Assad in Damascus on Monday before traveling to Iran and Iraq for talks on the conflict. Annan said Assad had suggested easing the conflict on a step-by-step basis, starting with districts that have suffered the worst violence.