(Updates with comments from U.K., U.S. and South African envoys from fourth paragraph; analyst comment in seventh paragraph.)
Aug. 1 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. and European allies today are seeking to resuscitate efforts at the United Nations to pressure Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to halt the bloodiest crackdown yet on anti-government protesters.
In response to a German call, the UN Security Council will meet today at 5 p.m. in New York to discuss the escalating violence in Syria, where security forces killed more than 150 people over the last two days. China, Russia, Brazil, South Africa and India -- which has taken over the council’s rotating monthly presidency -- have blocked adoption of a draft resolution first circulated on May 25.
The attack on Hama, accounting for the bulk of the deaths, is among the most vicious episodes in the uprising that began more than four months ago and was unleashed at the start of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan. The Security Council must urgently respond to the ongoing slaughter by referring the situation to the International Criminal Court, Amnesty International said.
“Our intention at that meeting is to circulate an updated version of our resolution and we are thinking of calling negotiations at the ambassadorial level tomorrow morning on that text,” Britain’s ambassador to the UN, Mark Lyall Grant, said today. “There are some indications that positions are shifting.”
U.S., French Criticism
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said that “in these horrifying circumstances, France hopes more than ever that the United Nations Security Council will shoulder its responsibilities by speaking out loud and clear.”
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice today said “it is past time for action.” In his most strongly worded criticism of Assad so far, President Barack Obama said yesterday that he was “appalled” by the Syrian government’s “brutality.” The U.S. is considering issuing additional oil and gas sanctions against Syria as a means of ratcheting up pressure on the regime.
“Stepped-up rhetoric is important, even if it alone will not be decisive,” said Robert Danin, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. “The international community alone cannot stop Assad immediately, short of some sort of military intervention, and there is no chance of that happening anytime in the foreseeable future.”
The European Union imposed an asset freeze and travel ban on five Syrians “responsible for and associated with repression,” Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief, said in an e-mailed statement, without identifying the people.
Russia Toughens Stance
In a sign of that Russian opposition to some form of UN action may be thawing, the Foreign Ministry in Moscow put out its toughest statement yet on Syria, saying the use of force against civilians is “unacceptable” and “should be stopped.” Officials in Moscow have been reluctant to speak on what they see as a domestic matter.
“This statement serves as a kind of insurance policy for Moscow to take further steps at the UN,” Fyodor Lukyanov, an analyst at the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy in Moscow, said by telephone.
Still, U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague told BBC Radio 4 that getting the UN’s decision-making body to act will be “difficult work.”
“What happened over the weekend is terrible and must be condemned by everybody,” the South African ambassador to the UN, Baso Sangqu, told reporters today. “We would prefer that there is political reform that takes into account the legitimate demands of the Syrian people.”
Government forces resumed their assault on Hama today, the first day of Ramadan, shelling the city early this morning and destroying four buildings, while also attacking the eastern city of Deir al-Zour and the town of Bukamal, Mahmoud Merhi, head of the Damascus-based Arab Organization for Human Rights, said by telephone.
At least 10 people were killed today, Merhi said, while Syrian state television said yesterday that an army colonel and two other soldiers were killed by armed men in Deir al-Zour.
The latest assault came as opposition forces vowed to step up their campaign against Assad during Ramadan. Family and community groups typically gather for evening meals during the month to break their fasts, and more people attend special services at mosques. That may make it easier for opposition leaders to organize daily rallies along the lines of those held for the past four months after Friday prayers.
The government “has been very frightened by Ramadan’s onset,” Joshua Landis, a Syria specialist who directs the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, said in a telephone interview. “The unfolding crackdown is going to fuel people’s anger.”
No Military Intervention
German Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer told reporters in Berlin that it remained to be seen whether the violence over the weekend will prompt reluctant partners to change their position.
“There is no prospect of a legal, morally sanctioned military intervention; therefore we have to concentrate on other ways of influencing the Assad regime and trying to help the situation in Syria,” Hague told the BBC. “It is a very frustrating situation.”
At least 2,000 protesters have been killed since the demonstrations began in mid-March, according to Merhi and Ammar Qurabi of the National Organization for Human Rights.
The unrest poses the biggest challenge to Assad’s rule since he inherited power from his father, Hafez al-Assad, 11 years ago. Assad has blamed the protests on foreign-inspired plots, while conceding that some demonstrators have legitimate demands and pledging political changes.
--With assistance from Brian Parkin in Berlin, Massoud A. Derhally in Dubai, Ilya Arkhipov in Moscow, Patrick Henry in Brussels, Nicole Gaouette in Washington and Gregory Viscusi in Paris. Editors: Terry Atlas,Leslie Hoffecker
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