Russian U.N. draft on Syria raises Western hopes of action

BEIRUT, (Reuters) – Russia offered the U.N.  Security Council a new, stronger draft resolution on the  violence in Syria, lifting Western hopes of U.N. action after  the killing of 27 Syrian soldiers by deserters raised the  spectre of a slide into civil war.    Western envoys said the Russian text was too weak, but they  were willing to negotiate over it, offering the council a chance   to overcome its deadlock and issue its first resolution on  Syria’s nine-month-old crackdown on protesters.

An activist group said Syrian army deserters killed 27  soldiers yesterday in and near the southern city of Deraa, in  some of the deadliest attacks on forces loyal to President  Bashar al-Assad since the uprising against his rule began.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 12 soldiers  were killed in Deraa, where protests against Assad first erupted  in March, and 15 at a checkpoint east of the city.

The high casualties among security forces suggested  coordinated strikes by army rebels who have escalated attacks,  raising fears that Syria might be slipping towards civil war.  The United Nations says 5,000 civilians have been killed in  Assad’s crackdown on protests inspired by uprisings elsewhere in  the Arab world. Assad has denied any orders were issued to kill  demonstrators and says gunmen have killed 1,100 of his forces.

It is the most serious challenge to the 11-year rule of  Assad, 46, whose family is from the minority Alawite sect that  has held power in majority Sunni Muslim Syria for four decades.  Western diplomats believe a firm Security Council resolution  backed by Russia, Syria’s longstanding ally, could make a real  difference to the crisis.

In October, Russia and China vetoed a West European draft  resolution that threatened sanctions. Russia has circulated its  own draft twice, but Western nations said it made an  unacceptable attempt to assign blame equally to government and  opposition.

The draft circulated unexpectedly by Russia on Thursday   expands and toughens Moscow’s previous text, adding a new  reference to “disproportionate use of force by Syrian  authorities”.

The draft, obtained by Reuters, also “urges the Syrian  government to put an end to suppression of those exercising  their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and  association”.

STRONGER TEXT  

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters it  “considerably strengthens all aspects of the previous text” and  that “clearly the Syrian authorities are singled out in a number  of instances”.

He said Russia did not believe both sides in Syria were  equally responsible for violence, but acknowledged it called on  all parties to halt violence and contained no threat of  sanctions, which he said Moscow continued to oppose.

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