At least 48 people were killed across Syria Wednesday, opposition activists said, as diplomats at the United Nations prepare to debate once again how to respond to the mounting crisis in the country.
The number killed in Wadi Barada, in the Damascus suburbs, rose to 21 according to the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, an opposition group that organizes and documents demonstrations. The other deaths occurred elsewhere in the region around Damascus and in Homs, Daraa, Idlib and Qamishli, the LCC said.
The latest casualties include six army defectors who were killed during clashes with government forces in the Damascus suburbs, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, another opposition activist group.
Opposition reports indicate the Free Syrian Army rebels are making serious inroads, including capturing and blowing up armored vehicles in their strongholds of Homs and Rastan, while government forces have reasserted their control over Damascus suburbs such as Saqba and Arbeen.
The reports come a day after members of the U.N. Security Council failed to reach an agreement on a resolution that would call for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down. Al-Assad has faced growing international pressure to stop a bloody crackdown on dissidents seeking his ouster and democratic elections.
Arab and Western diplomats voiced their support for the draft resolution, but representatives from Russia and China slammed it as meddlesome.
More effective than the resolution, Russia and China said, would be the fostering of dialogue within the country.
“The council cannot impose the parameters for an internal political settlement,” said Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s U.N. ambassador. “We are convinced that at a time of intense internal political crisis, the role of the international community should not be one of exacerbating conflict, nor meddling by use of economic sanctions or military force.”
The Security Council is considering a draft resolution proposed by Morocco that calls for al-Assad to transfer power to his vice president. Both China and Russia appear poised to veto it.
The resolution supports “full implementation” of an Arab League report that called on Syria to form a unity government within two months but stopped short of supporting military intervention or economic sanctions.
Russia — which, like China, is one of the five veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council — has said it is concerned about Syrian civil war and does not want al-Assad pushed out of power. It has proposed its own draft resolution that assigns equal blame for the violence on both al-Assad and the opposition.
But Qatar’s prime minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, said “the crisis started with absolutely peaceful demonstrations.”
He added: “The government killing machine continues effectively unabated.”
In October, Russia and China issued a rare double-veto of a resolution that lacked sanctions but would have condemned the violence in Syria. This latest draft also lacks sanctions, but it is tougher than the October version, which said nothing about a transfer of power.
Rights group Amnesty International urged Russia Wednesday to rethink its opposition to the latest draft.
“Russia’s threats to abort a binding U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria for the second time are utterly irresponsible. Russia bears a heavy responsibility for allowing the brutal crackdown on legitimate dissent in Syria to continue unchecked,” said Jose Luis Diaz, Amnesty International’s representative to the United Nations.
“Russia must work with other Security Council members to pass a strong and legally binding resolution that will help to end the bloodshed and human rights violations in Syria once and for all.”
Arab League Secretary-General Nabil el-Araby called for free elections and a multi-party system. “Do not let the Syrian people down in its plight,” he said.
The Arab League: No longer toothless?
Meanwhile, Syria’s envoy to the United Nations said the country is the victim of a systematic campaign to distort facts. The Arab League, he said, is interfering with Syrian affairs and has ignored reports from observers inside the country.
“Syria is going through decisive challenges in its history,” Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari said. “We want this stage to be through the will of our people, not through the will of anyone else.”
“That organization (the Arab League) is not speaking on behalf of all Arabs right now. Without Syria, there is no Arab League,” he said.
The Security Council has been unable to agree on any resolution on Syria.
The Syrian regime is a major weapons client for Russia. Analysts with Max-Security Solutions, a security consulting firm based in Israel, said Monday in The New York Times that recent Russian arms sales to Syria are worth $4 billion and that Russian business investments in Syria amount to nearly $20 billion.
A Congressional Research Service report in 2008 said the two countries had “concluded several significant arms deals.”
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the Security Council Tuesday that “evidence is clear that Assad’s forces are initiating nearly all the attacks that kill civilians, but as more citizens take up arms to resist the regime’s brutality, violence is increasingly likely to spiral out of control.”
She said it is crucial that the international community not embolden “the dictator.”
“At the end of the day, every member of that Security Council has a choice to make,” she told reporters. “If you do not choose to try to stand on the side of the Syrian people, then you are standing on the side of the continuing killing and abuses that are carried out every single day.”
Clinton’s support of the draft resolution was echoed by British Foreign Secretary William Hague and French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe.
Clinton has been trying for days to reach her Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, to lobby him on a U.N. resolution on Syria. Lavrov, on a visit to Australia, apparently has been avoiding her.
Russia’s Ria Novosti news agency described the foreign minister as “amazed by the hullabaloo” over his failure to talk with Clinton.
Lavrov, the agency said, “was busy negotiating with his Australian partners.”
At least 7,100 people — including 461 children — have died since the start of the Syrian anti-government uprising in March, the LCC said Tuesday.
The United Nations estimated in December that more than 5,000 people have died since March, though it has also said it has been unable to update that figure because of the situation on the ground.
CNN cannot independently confirm opposition or government reports from Syria because access to the country is limited.
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