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U.N. General Assembly denounces Syria crackdown, but takes little action

Updated at 4:20 p.m. ET

(CBS/AP) UNITED NATIONS - The U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly denounced Syria's crackdown Friday in a symbolic effort meant to push the deadlocked Security Council and the world at large into action on stopping the country's civil war.

Before the vote, Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon reminded the Assembly of the fresh violence in the city of Aleppo and drew comparisons between the failure to act in Syria with the international community's failure to protect people from past genocide in Srebrenica and Rwanda.

"The conflict in Syria is a test of everything this organization stands for," Ban said. "I do not want today's United Nations to fail that test."

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The vote came after the more powerful Security Council was stopped by a series of Russian and Chinese vetoes on resolutions that would have opened the door to sanctions on Syria.

The General Assembly vote was 133 in support of the resolution and 12 against, with 31 abstaining. Syria's ambassador angrily called the vote "a piece of theater."

Though General Assembly resolutions are unenforceable, a strong vote can carry moral weight.

Even so, the resolution's Arab sponsors this week weakened two key provisions - a demand that President Bashar Assad resign and a call for other nations to place sanctions on Syria.

Russia and China had objected to those provisions. Both voted "no" Friday.

The revised resolution takes a swipe at Russia and China by "deploring the Security Council failure" to act.

Frustration over the lack of action was clear. Former U.N. chief Kofi Annan resigned Thursday as the joint U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria after his peace proposals failed.

Friday's session rang with accusations over why Annan's mission failed.

"Just as the General Assembly unites to denounce the violations of human rights by the Syrian government, the harsh reality -- that diplomacy has failed -- is still the message that is sent by the Kofi Annan resignation and the surge in the fighting within Syria," reports CBS News foreign analyst Pam Falk.

Israeli ambassador to the U.N., Ron Prosor, expressed impatience with the international community not taking enough harsh action against Syria and its allies, Iran and Hezbollah.

"While the Security Council remains paralyzed in New York, Assad's Council of Terror continues to operate ruthlessly in Damascus," Prosor said. "On Assad's advisory board sit [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad and [Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan] Nasrallah, who offer him guidance on how to butcher the Syrian people more effectively."

The Syria uprising has left 19,000 dead since it erupted in March 2011. The U.N. estimates that 1.5 million people have been forced to abandon their homes but remain in the country.

"The acts of brutality that are being reported may constitute crimes against humanity or war crimes," Ban said of the Aleppo fighting. "Such acts must be investigated and the perpetrators held to account."

CBS News correspondent Charlie D'Agata, reporting from the outskirts of Aleppo, says at one point, he and the rebel fighters he's traveling with got to within about a mile of the city, and it was clear from explosions heard even at that distance that it is already "a warzone". (Click at left to see D'Agata's report from the front lines)

The resolution backs Annan's "demand that the first step in the cessation of violence has to be made by the Syrian authorities." It also demands the lockdown of the regime's chemical and biological weapons.

It denounces attacks on children as young as 9 by the Syrian government, military intelligence services and militias. It condemns the increasing Syrian military reliance on heavy weapons, including tanks and helicopters, and "failure to withdraw its troops and heavy weapons to their barracks" in line with Annan's proposals.

Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari called the resolution's main sponsors, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain, "despotic oligarchies."

"The draft resolution will have no impact whatsoever. It is a piece of theater," he told reporters after the vote. And Iran's No. 2 ambassador, Eshagh Alehabib, called the resolution "one-sided."

British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said the resolution was not meant to be balanced. The intent, he said, was to issue an unequivocal condemnation of the Syrian regime.

Former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan meets with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, unseen, at the Great Hall of People in Beijing March 27, 2012.
Former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan AP

U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said afterward that a reference in the resolution did amount to a demand for Assad leaving power: "Importantly, the resolution also welcomes the Arab League's July 22nd decision, which calls for Assad to step down and for a transitional government to be formed."

The vote came a day after U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told the Security Council that U.N. military observers in Aleppo were seeing "a considerable buildup of military means, where we have reason to believe that the main battle is about to start." The rebels have commandeered tanks, and are bringing them into combat as Syrian warplanes strike back.

The observer mission is in the midst of a 30-day extension of its mandate, which expires on Aug. 19. Extending it would require passage of another resolution in the Security Council.

The mission has been largely kept from its work by the violence, and it is already being cut back, from its original authorized strength of 300 to currently 115 monitors and 80 civilians.

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