Western powers clash with Russia in UN showdown over Syria
Western powers, Arab League representatives clashed with Russia on Tuesday as they pushed for a UN resolution ordering the resignation of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and an end to what the United States called his "reign of terror."
The diplomatic showdown at the United Nations came as fighting escalated between Syrian government forces and rebels and a senior US official predicted that Assad would be toppled sooner or later.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton led the charge for UN action, backed by British Foreign Secretary William Hague, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, and Arab League representatives.
The proposed UN resolution, crafted by the Western powers and the Arab League, seeks to stop a Syrian crackdown that the United Nations says has killed more than 5,400 people in the past 10 months.
"We all know that change is coming to Syria. Despite its ruthless tactics, the Assad regime's reign of terror will end," Clinton said. "The question for us is how many more innocent civilians will die before this country is able to move forward."
Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al-Thani, speaking on behalf of the Arab League, said the UN had to stop Assad's "killing machine."
Under the resolution sponsored by Arab League member Morocco, Assad would be ordered to halt violence immediately and hand power to his deputy.
But while there is no threat of use of force in the resolution, Russia, which has veto power on the Security Council, has vowed to oppose what it sees as a backdoor effort to implement regime change.
"I don't think Russian policy is about asking people to step down. Regime change is not our profession," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, arguing that while Assad was not an ally of Moscow, it was not up to other nations to interfere.
The text of the resolution calls for the formation of a unity government leading to "transparent and free elections," while stressing there will be no foreign military intervention in Syria, as there was in Libya, helping to topple Moamer Gathafi.
Nevertheless, Russia's deputy foreign minister, Gennady Gatilov, said on Tuesday that the resolution would be a "path towards civil war" in the increasingly divided country.
In Washington, US intelligence chief James Clapper said the fall of the Assad regime was inevitable.
"I do not see how he can sustain his rule of Syria," Clapper, the director of national intelligence, told senators.
"I personally believe it's a question of time but that's the issue, it could be a long time."
Syria remained defiant. At the United Nations, the Syrian ambassador, Bashar Jaafari, said his country "will stand firm in confronting its enemies."
In a defiant speech, Jaafari accused the alliance of Western powers and Arab League states of "double standards" and of "fomenting the crisis."
But the opposition Syrian National Council deplored the international community's lack of "swift action" to protect civilians "by all necessary means," in a statement on Facebook.
The SNC, the most representative group opposed to Assad, reaffirmed the "people's determination to fight for their freedom and dignity," stressing they "will not give up their revolution, whatever the sacrifices."
The head of the now-defunct Arab League observer mission to Syria, General Mohammed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi, said there had been a marked upsurge in violence in the past week.
On Monday alone, almost 100 people, including 55 civilians, were killed during a regime assault on the flashpoint city of Homs, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
On Tuesday, at least 22 people were killed, all but one of them civilians, the Observatory said.
The rebel Free Syrian Army said half of the country was now effectively a no-go zone for the security forces.
"Fifty percent of Syrian territory is no longer under the control of the regime," its Turkey-based commander Colonel Riyadh al-Asaad said.
He said the morale of government troops was extremely low. "That's why they are bombing indiscriminately, killing men, women and children," he said.
CIA director David Petraeus told senators in Washington that Assad now faced challenges in Damascus and Aleppo, two cities that had been seen as insulated from the unrest.
"I think it has shown indeed how substantial the opposition to the regime is and how it is in fact growing and how increasing areas are becoming beyond the reach of the regime security forces," Petraeus said.