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(Updates with analyst comment starting in 10th paragraph.)
Jan. 27 (Bloomberg) -- Syrian security forces carried out a deadly raid on Hama hours before the United Nations Security Council meets to discuss President Bashar al-Assad’s crackdown on anti-government protesters.
Explosions rocked the Hamidiyeh neighborhood of Hama in central Syria early today, with government forces using heavy machine guns and artillery, the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The violence has left at least 25 people dead around Syria today, according to the observatory and Mahmoud Merei, head of the Arab Organization for Human Rights.
“The situation is very tense,” he said, adding that dozens of tanks were deployed in the suburbs of the capital, Damascus. “The atmosphere has been bad for the past few days.”
The violence comes as Arab and Western nations press for adoption of a revised draft Security Council resolution that calls on Assad to transfer power to his deputy. Previous language, which urged Assad to abandon power to pave way for “fair elections,” was replaced with a call for him to hand over “full authority” to his deputy and for the “formation of a national unity government,” according to the draft obtained by Bloomberg News.
That change aims to mollify Russia, which says Western powers are seeking a regime change in Syria, and it could leave Assad nominally as leader even if devoid of powers, according to a UN diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks are private.
A call for member states to prevent arms sales to Syria were also dropped as Russia sells weapons to Assad’s government, the diplomat said. Eleven months into the unrest, the European Union and the U.S. have yet to overcome Russia’s resistance at the UN’s decision-making body to efforts to hold Assad responsible for a crackdown that the UN estimates has killed more than 5,000 people.
At least 50 people were killed around Syria yesterday, including seven army defectors, according to the U.K.-based observatory.
Russia leads critics in the 15-member council who say a UN mandate in Libya was abused to bring down Muammar Qaddafi and that Western powers are seeking to repeat that scenario in Syria. Russia has vowed to block any resolution that calls for Assad to relinquish power.
Arab League Secretary-General Nabil El-Arabi and Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani plan to travel to New York this weekend and present Syria’s crisis dossier to the Security Council as early as Jan. 30. The draft resolution affirms a transition plan put forward by the Arab League calling for a national unity government within two months to implement a peaceful handover of power.
The six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council is “convinced that without a Security Council resolution authorizing either pressure on Syria or humanitarian military intervention, the Syrian crisis won’t end,” Mustafa Alani, director of national security at the Geneva-based Gulf Research Center, said by phone today. “They’re convinced now without any doubt that a regional Arab solution is no longer valid.”
Saudi Arabia will recognize the opposition Syrian National Council as the “official representative” of the Syrian people, the Kuwait newspaper, Al-Rai, reported, citing Ahmed Ramadan, a member of the SNC’s executive council.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told an SNC delegation in Cairo last week that the kingdom would recognize the group as the Syrians’ representative, Ramadan told the newspaper.
Bassma Kodmani, a spokeswoman for the opposition Syrian National Council, didn’t answer calls seeking comment. The mobile phone of Osama Nugali, a spokesman at the Saudi Foreign Ministry in Riyadh, was switched off.
The draft resolution calls for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki- moon to report on the implementation of the resolution, in consultation with the Arab League, within 15 days of its adoption and to consider further options if Syria fails to comply.
“We expected a joint Arab and Western decision regarding the situation in Syria but had hoped the Arab League would coordinate with Russia so it doesn’t use its veto power,” Merei said.
Russia is ready to cooperate with Western and Arab nations in drawing up a resolution on Syria as long as it is aimed at promoting “inclusive dialogue between all Syrian sides,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said on its website today, citing an interview Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov gave to the Interfax news service.
--With assistance from Gregory Viscusi in Paris and Henry Meyer in Moscow. Editors: Jennifer M. Freedman, Karl Maier, Eddie Buckle
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