Russia has blocked a joint Western-Gulf Arab draft UN Security Council resolution on Friday, supporting the Arab League plan of last weekend, which demanded that President Bashar al-Assad hand over powers to a deputy so that new elections can be held. The draft, which was presented by Morocco had been drawn up by Britain, France and Germany with Arab states. The text demanded an immediate end to the government violence and "encouraged" all states to follow sanctions imposed by the Arab League against Syria in November, but contains no mandatory action.
Vitaly Churkin, Russia's UN ambassador, said the Europe-Arab draft resolution was unacceptable in parts, but his country was ready to "engage" on it. Churkin was critical of the Arab League, accusing it of seeking to "impose" a solution on Assad before talks had started between the government and opposition groups. "Syria will not be Libya," he declared.
Days of tough talks loom before any vote is held. No action is likely before Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby and Qatar's Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Al Thani brief the council on Tuesday.
Meanwhile the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights updated its death toll to 62 on Friday. Activists said Syrian forces raided the city of Homs, while a car bomb exploded at an army checkpoint in the northwestern town of Idlib.The Homs raid began in the Karm Al-Zeitoun neighbourhood, with the UK-based Observatory reporting 33 people killed.The Local Coordination Committees (LCC), which organize protests on the ground, said that by Friday regime forces had pounded the Bab Seba neighbourhood with heavy artillery and rocket fire. Fighting was also heard in Baba Amro district.
The Observatory said another flashpoint central city, Hama, also came under assault on Friday, with intense firing from heavy machineguns and loud explosions heard. In the outskirts of Damascus, an 11-year-old boy was killed at a checkpoint in Hamuriyeh, the Observatory said, and in Aleppo, the country's second-biggest city, two civilians were killed when security forces "fired indiscriminately."
And a car bomb hit a security checkpoint at the entrance to Idlib, the Observatory said, killing and wounding an unknown number of security people.
The attack comes less than a week after a roadside bomb killed 11 detainees being transported in a Syrian prison truck in Idlib province.
In a further development, armed Syrian rebels claimed on Thursday they captured five Iranians they accuse of being military officers working with the regime.The Free Syrian Army broadcast a YouTube video showing five men holding up what appeared to be Iranian passports.Iran denied the captured Iranians were military officers, but were rather pilgrims en route to the Syrian capital.
Update: The Arab League has suspended its monitoring mission in Syria due to what it called the escalation of violence and "critical deterioration of the situation" in the country. Nabil Elaraby, the secretary-general of the Arab League, announced the decision in a statement on Saturday. "It has been decided to immediately stop the work of the Arab League's mission to Syria pending presentation of the issue to the league's council," he said. The bloc said around 100 observers would remain in the country but would not undertake new missions. Activists in Syria say that at least 80 people have been killed in the past three days across the country.