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U.N. takes another try at Syria resolution

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 8:56 PM EST, Fri February 10, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: An opposition group says 110 people have been killed nationwide, 64 of them civilians
  • State media says at least 28 people were killed and 235 wounded in Aleppo explosions
  • Russia's U.N. envoy says the international community must address armed groups
  • Russian official says there is evidence of a foreign military presence in Syria

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United Nations (CNN) -- Nearly a week after Russia and China vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution intended to halt the killing in Syria, Saudi Arabia has drafted a similarly worded document -- but one that lacks the same punch.

The Saudi draft resolution will be submitted to the U.N. General Assembly, where vetoes are not allowed, but resolutions are not legally binding.

The text was provided to CNN by a diplomatic source on the condition that it not be posted in full because it could be amended.

The three-page draft "strongly condemns" the violations of human rights by Syrian authorities. It cites "the use of force against civilians, arbitrary executions, killing and persecution of protesters, human rights defenders, and journalists, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, interference with access to medical treatment, torture, sexual violence, and ill-treatment, including against children."

In addition, the U.N.'s Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide and on the Responsibility to Protect reiterated a concern it first expressed last July that "widespread and systematic attacks against civilians could constitute crimes against humanity under international criminal law."

But it was not clear what impact the words and documents might have. The world body has already shown itself incapable or unwilling to move forcefully to stop the slaughter. The U.N. Security Council last week failed to pass a resolution on Syria after Russia and China vetoed the measure.

The rebuff to the will of much of the rest of the international community was denounced during opposition protests Friday; one protester burned a Chinese flag.

The latest diplomatic effort came hours after twin blasts tore through government buildings in Syria's second-largest city and on a day when thousands of government opponents marched in more than 600 demonstrations nationwide and Syrian artillery shells continued to rain terror on the city of Homs.

The government blamed "terrorists" for the morning explosions in Aleppo, considered one of President Bashar al-Assad's power centers. State media showed burned bodies, police vehicles and buses covered by a dusting of rubble, their seats occupied by shards of twisted metal and more rubble. Lingering shots focused on spots of brown, dry earth tinged by a splattering of red, a grim Jackson Pollock. The state media blamed the blasts on two suicide car bombings that killed 28 people and wounded 235.

Activists put Friday's nationwide death toll at 110. They included 64 civilians, at least six rebels and about 40 from the security forces, according to the Local Coordination Committees, which organizes and documents anti-government protests.

The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency, citing the Ministry of Foreign and Expatriates, blamed "parties that were supported by Arab and Western countries in violation of their Arab and international obligations and in sincere devotion to undermine the safety and security of Syria and its citizens."

The Free Syrian Army, comprising defectors, blamed the government.

Friday's bloodshed brought familiar protestations. "The secretary-general firmly condemns the bomb attacks this morning in the city of Aleppo," said one such e-mail from the spokesperson for Ban Ki-moon. "The secretary-general reiterates his strong conviction that the crisis in Syria can only be solved through a comprehensive peaceful political solution that addresses the democratic aspirations of the Syrian people and ensures the full respect of their human rights and fundamental freedoms."

A satellite photo of Homs, shot last Monday and posted on the U.S. Embassy's website, limns a city landscape pockmarked by craters and burned-out buildings in front of which sit neat lines of armored vehicles.

Al-Assad's regime has repeatedly said that its months-long crackdown is aimed at armed gangs and foreign terrorists bent on destabilizing the regime.

Such remarks were dismissed as "disingenuous" by U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford. "We know who's shelling Homs," he told CNN in an interview in Paris.

"It's not the opposition, it's the government. That's why I wanted that picture put up on our Facebook account. So people could see there's the artillery and that's what's firing. The armed opposition has rifles, machine guns, grenades, but it doesn't have artillery. Only one side has artillery."

The impact of that artillery and how to muzzle it is likely to be a topic Monday when U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay is to address the U.N. General Assembly on Syria.

Sixteen people died in Homs, where shelling and rockets bombarded residents for a sixth consecutive day, according to opposition activists and city residents.

"Random shelling mainly with Katyusha rockets started as usual at 5 a.m. ET today on civilian areas in (the Homs neighborhood of) Baba Amr," according to an amateur videographer identified only by his first name, Rami, because he fears retribution.

"It's like a nightmare," said an activist identified only as Abu Faris. "Every day we lose almost 70 to 100 martyrs in addition to hundreds of wounded civilians who are desperate in our houses without any possibility to take them to the hospitals."

He said more than 70 checkpoints dot the city, with snipers making sure residents can't go from one area to another.

A video posted online shows a doctor with his wounded patients, some of whom were too weak to moan. "We can't do anything for them," Abu Faris says. "The public hospitals are occupied by the Assad forces ... we can't take the wounded to the public hospitals because they will be tortured and killed. The private hospitals are surrounded by snipers and checkpoints."

Tanks and armored vehicles carrying government forces rolled Friday into Inshaat, another Homs neighborhood, according to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, another opposition group.

The troops conducted house-to-house raids and made arbitrary arrests, the group said.

World organizations continued to express dismay over the mounting carnage, but offered no plans for intervention. European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton called for the international community to "speak with one voice, demanding an end to the bloodshed and urging Assad to step aside and allow a democratic transition."

In response to widespread criticism of its U.N. veto, Russia fired back Friday, accusing the West of establishing a military presence in Syria to stoke the fighting and intervene in the country's internal affairs.

"According to latest reports that are now being verified, a foreign special task force has been deployed in Syria," said Alexei Pushkov, chairman of Russia's lower house of parliament, according to the state-run Itar-Tass News Agency. "In case these reports are proved to be true, the scenarios will be absolutely the same as it was in Libya."

He added to reporters, "They are supporting the opposition and supplying it with arms."

Ambassador Ford, whose embassy in Damascus has been shuttered as he and other U.S. diplomats have departed, gave no indication that U.S. forces would intervene, but said his government is ramping up its efforts to resolve the crisis. "From our part, while we do not want to send American military forces to Syria, we are going to redouble our efforts on three tracks," he said.

Ford cited increased economic pressure on the Syrian economy, which is already feeling the sanctions; redoubled efforts to support the Syrian opposition; and attention to the growing humanitarian problem in Syria, where an estimated 65,000 people have lost their homes.

But supporting the opposition is difficult, since it is fragmented, Ford said. "We will want to approach it steadily and carefully and figure out where their needs are and what would make sense for us to do," he said.

Ford would not predict how long al-Assad might retain power, but noted that the Syrian leader is under pressure. In Damascus and in other cities, electricity is intermittent and supplies are scarce. "The government's position is growing steadily weaker, and I think that is why they are more anxious, determined even, to apply a quick military solution to the opposition problem," Ford said.

But that won't happen: Opposition has become so pervasive that "there isn't going to be a military solution to the problem," he predicted.

Russia, an ally to Syria since the Soviet era, has said it supports an end to the violence but feels the situation is for Syrians to resolve. Russia's U.N. ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, said Russia vetoed the resolution because it disagreed with the text.

"We do believe that, in order to stop violence, armed methods must be stopped not only by the government, but also by the opposition," Churkin told CNN. "That was the key flaw of the draft resolution."

U.N. officials estimate that 6,000 people have died since protests began nearly a year ago. The Local Coordination Committees puts the toll at more than 7,300.

Arab League member Saudi Arabia on Friday warned of a humanitarian disaster if nations don't intervene now.

"The failure of the Security Council in issuing a resolution to support the Arab Peace Initiative should not preclude its endeavor to take decisive actions to protect the lives of innocent people and stop the bloodshed and all acts of violence that threaten dire consequences for the Syrian people and the stability of the entire region," said Yousef bin Ahmad Al-Othaimeen, a member of the Saudi cabinet, which took up the issue Friday.

CNN's Salma Abdelaziz, Amir Ahmed and Richard Roth contributed to this report.

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