Clinton urges U.N. action to end Syria violence

UNITED NATIONS - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told the Security Council on Tuesday that U.N. action to end the violence in Syria would be different from the NATO-led efforts in Libya that resulted in the ouster of Muammar Qaddafi.

"I know that some members here may be concerned that the Security Council is headed toward another Libya," Clinton said, referring to Russia's refusal to back measures against Syria on the grounds that it could lead to armed intervention. "That is a false analogy."

Russia says it worries that a draft measure aimed at Syria, currently before the council, could lead to military action and regime change — just as an Arab-backed U.N. resolution led to NATO airstrikes in Libya.

"It is time for the international community to put aside our own differences and send a clear message of support to the people of Syria," Clinton said.

Her comments followed a rare call by the Arab League to condemn violence in a fellow Arab country, and adopt its peace plan calling on Syrian President Bashar Assad to step aside.

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Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby told the council that the league wanted the Security Council act "to support our initiative and not to take its place."

"We are attempting to avoid any foreign intervention, particularly military intervention" in Syria, he said. "We have always stressed full respect of the security, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Syrian people."

In his response, Syria's U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari lashed out at the league, accusing it of acting without consulting the Syrian leadership.

"How strange it is for us to see some members of the League of Arab States seeking the support of the Security Council against Syria," Ja'afari said. He noted that the Security Council often has voted in support of Israel against Arab-backed measures.

Russia, a veto-wielding permanent member of the council, has objected to the draft, which is backed by Western and some Arab powers. Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said Tuesday on Twitter that the resolution is a "path to civil war."

Backers of the draft point out that it says specifically that "nothing ... compels states to resort to the use of force or the threat of force."

British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs William Hague urged speedy action.

"How long do Syrian families have to live in fear that their children will be killed or tortured, before the Security Council will act?" Hague asked. "How many people need to die before the consciences of world capitals are stirred?"

An actual vote on the resolution was considered unlikely until later this week.

The debate came amid rising violence Tuesday in Homs, a Syrian center of opposition to Assad's regime. The U.N. estimates that more than 5,400 people have been killed since last March in the Syrian government crackdown against protesters.

The draft resolution demands that Assad halt the crackdown and implement an Arab League peace plan calling for him to hand over power to his vice president. If Assad fails to comply within 15 days, the council would consider "further measures," a reference to a possible move to impose economic or other sanctions.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday at a news conference in Amman, Jordan, that he was "encouraged by the League of Arab States' initiative to seek a political solution" to the Syrian crisis.

"It is more urgent than ever to put an end to this bloodshed and violence, to start a credible political solution that addresses the legitimate aspiration of the Syrian people and to protect their fundamental freedoms," Ban said.

If Russia choses to use its veto, there isn't much more council members can do except draft a nonbinding statement that would have to be approved by consensus.

In October, a Western-backed resolution condemning the violence in Syria was blocked by a double veto of Russia and fellow permanent member China.

Syria has been Moscow's top ally in the Middle East since Soviet times, when it was led by the incumbent's father, Hafez Assad. The Kremlin saw it as a bulwark for countering U.S. influence in the region.

While Russia's relations with Israel have improved greatly since the Soviet collapse, ties with Damascus helped Russia retain its clout as a member of the Quartet of international mediators trying to negotiate peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

For decades, Syria has been a major customer for Russian arms, buying billions of dollars worth of combat jets, missiles, tanks and other heavy weapons.

Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based monitoring group U.N. Watch, said it was time for Russia to end "its increasingly futile effort to shield the doomed Assad regime.

"Russia would do better to prepare the dictator's Moscow asylum, something he will need sooner rather than later," Neuer said.

German Ambassador Peter Wittig told Al-Jazeera Arabic Monday that he understood that "Russia is in a difficult position" but said the council needed to act.

The German mission to the United Nations provided a text of Wittig's comments to reporters.

"I believe we are at a fork in the road," said the text. "Either the council contributes to stop the violence, to start a meaningful political process or Syria might slight into a full scale civil war."

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