Russia, China veto Syria resolution; Assad appears

Russia and China again vetoed a Western-backed UN resolution aimed at pressuring President Bashar Assad`s government to end conflict in Syria.

Zeenews Bureau

Beirut: Amid growing speculation about the Syrian President’s whereabouts since Wednesday’s brazen terrorist attack in Damascus, Syrian TV on Thursday showed a footage of Bashar al-Assad.

The video shows Assad attending the swearing-in of new Defence Minister General Fahd Jassem al-Freij.

Earlier, reports said Assad was injured in Wednesday’s attack and had left the capital.

A brief state TV report, which showed Assad dressed in a suit and tie, appeared aimed at sending the message that the Syrian President is alive and well. The station said that he wished the new defence minister good luck, but did not say where the swearing-in took place.

Wednesday’s attack killed Assad’s brother-in-law and his defence minister. Assad does not appear in public frequently, and his absence was notable following such a serious blow his inner circle.

China, Russia veto resolution

Russia and China again vetoed a Western-backed UN resolution on Thursday aimed at pressuring President Bashar Assad`s government to end the escalating 16-month conflict in Syria.

The 11-2 vote, with two abstentions from South Africa and Pakistan, was the third double veto of a resolution addressing the Syria crisis by Damascus` most important allies.

The defeat leaves in limbo the future of the 300-strong UN observer mission in Syria, which was forced to suspend operations because of the intensified fighting. Its mandate, to monitor a ceasefire and implementation of international envoy Kofi Annan`s peace plan, expires on Friday.

Britain`s UN Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, who sponsored the Western-backed draft, said he was "appalled" at the third double veto of a resolution aimed at bringing an end to the bloodshed in Syria and creating conditions for political talks. The resolution had threatened sanctions if the Syrian regime didn`t quickly stop using heavy weapons.

"The consequence of their decision is obvious," he said. "Further bloodshed, and the likelihood of descent into all-out civil war." Activists say more than 17,000 people have been killed since the uprising began in March 2011, most of them civilians.

"The consequence of today`s action is the situation will continue to deteriorate," US Ambassador Susan Rice told reporters.

Russia`s UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said the resolution should never have been put to a vote because the sponsors knew it had no chance of adoption.

"We simply cannot accept a document under Chapter 7, one which would open the path for the pressure of sanctions and further to external military involvement in Syrian domestic affairs," he said.

The latest veto was a blow to Kofi Annan, the joint UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, who had called for "consequences" for non-compliance with his six-point peace plan, which has been flouted by the Assad government.

Syria violence intensifies

In the latest fighting in Damascus, government forces fired heavy machine guns and mortars in battles with rebels in a number of neighbourhoods in the capital, the Britain-based activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

"Intense fighting has been ongoing for five days in Damascus in frustrated attempts by the regime to regain rebel-held areas," said the Observatory.

The group reported intense clashes in a string of neighbourhoods along its southern edge, the northeastern neighbourhood of Qaboun, and in number of western suburbs.

Gunfire and booms from shelling could be heard throughout the capital, and streets in the hard-hit areas were largely empty, save for government troops or rebels.

Adding to the confusion, Syria`s state news agency warned citizens that gunmen were disguising themselves in military uniforms to carry out attacks.

"Gunmen are wearing Republican Guard uniforms in the neighbourhoods of Tadamon, Midan, Qaa and Nahr Aisha, proving that they are planning attacks and crimes," it said.

The Observatory, which relies on a network of activists inside Syria, said some 26 rebels and civilians were killed in Damascus and its suburbs, among more than 100 killed nationwide. At least 47 of the dead were government troops, it said.

Amateur videos posted online gave glimpses of the strife. One video showed dozens of dead and wounded men on the floor of a mosque in the area of Sayida Zeinab, south of Damascus. An off-camera narrator says government helicopters fired on them on Wednesday. Another video showed what appeared to be at least 40 bodies wrapped in cloth and laid out in a mass grave.

Rebels made gains, according to other videos. Some showed dozens of fighters celebrating on three destroyed tanks in the northern town of Izaz, which they said they had seized from the regime.

Activist claims and videos could not be independently verified. The Syrian government bars most media from working independently in the country.

The unarmed observers were authorised for 90 days to monitor a cease-fire and implementation of Kofi Annan`s six-point peace plan, but the truce never took hold and the monitors have found themselves largely locked down because of the persistent violence.

Syria`s 16-month crisis began with protests inspired by the Arab Spring wave of revolutions, but it has evolved into a civil war, with rebels fighting to topple Assad.

Activists say more than 17,000 people have been killed since the uprising began in March 2011, most of them civilians. The Syrian government says more than 4,000 security officers have been killed. It does not given numbers of civilian dead.

(With Agency inputs)