Deadly cat and mouse game in Syria
NEW: Death toll Tuesday reaches 17, an opposition group says
Government forces were killed in Idlib, a rebel group says
Russian official: U.N. passage of a proposed Syria resolution could lead Syria to a civil war
The U.N. Security Council considers a draft resolution that calls for al-Assad to step down
United Nations (CNN) — The U.N. Security Council will hear from the head of the Arab League Tuesday about what the group’s monitors saw in Syria as council members mull whether to call on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down.
“It is primarily a straightforward condemnation of what has transpired, a call upon the government of Syria to adhere to the commitments it made,” U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice told reporters about the draft. She noted that it contains no sanctions and does not threaten the use of force.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the draft demands the government end the violence, pull back its heavy weaponry from residential areas, allow monitors to operate freely, release political prisoners and allow the news media to operate.
“This is a regime composed of a small minority that is now attacking the majority of Syrians,” she said. “It is the regime that bears responsibility for the violence.”
Meanwhile, a humanitarian crisis is unraveling in several areas of Syria, opposition activists said Tuesday.
At least 17 people were confirmed dead Tuesday, including nine in Idlib, six in Homs, one in Daraa and one in Damascus suburbs, according to the the Local Coordination Committees in Syria, an opposition group that organizes and documents demonstrations. The group reported 100 deaths Monday.
Much of Ghouta, in the eastern suburbs of Damascus, faces a “complete siege and closure” after days of sustained bombings that killed dozens, the LCC said.
Electricity, water, heating fuel and food are in short supply, and communications are interrupted, the LCC said.
“We appeal to the Red Cross and the Red Crescent and all relevant international organizations to go to the area and provide relief for its people with food, medicine, and shelter and to pressure the criminal regime to stop its ongoing crimes against our people,” the group said in a statement.
A spokesman for the rebel group Revolutionary Council in Irbin, just outside Damascus, told CNN Tuesday, “What we are witnessing today is a heavy attack by tanks and artillery on the eastern outskirts.” At about 8 a.m., the army reached the main square, he said. There were several “massive explosions,” though it was not clear if they all came from within Irbin, he said.
Earlier, by 6 a.m., the city was blocked and no one was allowed to leave amid a “massive presence of soldiers,” he said.
The spokesman, going by the pseudonym Abu Sayeed, said there were two confirmed deaths in the city. On Monday, no one could get to a dead body for six hours because of sniper fire, he side.
Electricity was available only three hours a day because of “punishment” from the regime, he said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, another opposition group, said that in Idlib, where fighting has raged in recent days, clashes between government forces and army defectors that started after the bombing of a military truck resulted in the deaths of members of the government forces.
The observatory and the LCC said regime forces stationed at a checkpoint fired on a busload of workers, leaving one person dead and seven wounded.
Syria, in state media, blames the violence on “armed terrorist groups.”
State-run news agency SANA carried a report Tuesday saying that “an official source at the Foreign and Expatriates Ministry stated that the U.S.-Western hostile statements are mounting against Syria in a flagrant way.”
The story quoted the source as saying the statements against Syria are timed to “to target Syria and create a different image about the situation of the Syrian crisis,” and the statements are “coming from countries accustomed to making the Middle East a field for their foolishness and failing experiments.”
CNN cannot independently confirm opposition or government reports from Syria because access to the country is limited.
The draft U.N. resolution calls for al-Assad to step down and supports “full implementation” of the Arab League recommendations for Syria. That would include calling on Syria to form a unity government within two months.
But Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov warned that the resolution, if passed, will put Syria on a “path to civil war,” according to the foreign ministry.
Russia — which maintains trade relations with Syria — has proposed its own draft U.N. resolution that assigns equal blame for the violence on both al-Assad and the opposition.
In October, Russia and China issued a rare double veto of a resolution that lacked sanctions but would have condemned the violence in Syria.
Russia said Syrian authorities have agreed to informal talks with opposition representatives in Moscow.
“We are convinced that the Moscow contacts are indispensable in order to immediately cease any violence in Syria, prevent bloodshed and confrontation in the society, and ensure the success of deep democratic transformations in the country in compliance with the aspirations of all Syrians,” Russia’s foreign ministry said, according to the state-run Itar-Tass News Agency.
Also on Tuesday, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe will travel to U.N. headquarters “in order to persuade the Security Council to fully assume its responsibilities in the face of the increased level of crimes against humanity being perpetrated by the Syrian regime,” according to a statement on the French U.N. delegation’s website.
“Everything must be done to bring an end to the spiral of violence now resulting from the bloody crackdown that Bashar al-Assad’s regime has been imposing for more than 10 months,” the statement said, urging other nations to support the Moroccan resolution.
The Arab League on Saturday suspended its mission to monitor whether al-Assad was abiding by an agreement to end the crackdown, which has left thousands of civilians dead. Protesters and rebel fighters have been demanding an end to al-Assad’s rule and true democratic elections.
Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, said a swift reaction by the U.N. Security Council is “urgently needed.”
“I urge all members of the U.N. Security Council to assume their responsibilities in relation to the situation in Syria, and adopt steps long overdue in order to bring an end to the repression in Syria,” he said.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Monday called for the council to “send a clear message of support to the Syrian people: We stand with you.”
“The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the escalation of the Syrian regime’s violent and brutal attacks on its own people,” Clinton said in a statement.
A resident of Homs said six members of a family — parents, two boys and two girls — were found dead in the city Monday. A YouTube video showed what appeared to be marks of torture on the bodies.
One woman’s eye had been gouged from its socket. “This is the work of Assad’s gangs and his so-called reforms,” a voice in the video said. CNN could not confirm this independently.
The United Nations estimated last month that more than 5,000 people have died since the uprising in Syria started in March. Opposition groups estimate a higher death toll, with counts near or exceeding 7,000 people.
Meanwhile, Sweden’s immigration service announced it is suspending all deportations and expulsions to Syria due to the “rapidly deteriorating security situation” in that country. The decision follows a move in December to ramp up the number of spots for asylum seekers from Syria.