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Germany assumes UN Security Council presidency

Germany has assumed its role as chair on the UN Security Council for the month of September. Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has vowed to use the presidency to take a tough stance on Syria's Assad.

France handed the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council to Germany on Saturday a day after Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle promised to push the council to further isolate the Syrian regime.

During a visit to Hong Kong on Friday, Westerwelle condemned the council's failure to take firm action against President Bashar Assad's brutal suppression of the 17-month uprising. He described China and Russia's veto of three Security Council resolutions on the conflict as nothing less than a "blockade."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov defended Moscow's position, saying it was "naive" for foreign powers to expect Assad to withdraw his forces from Syria's major cities first.

"No matter what your view of the Syrian regime, it is completely unrealistic in the current situation - when there is fighting in the cities - to say that the only way out is the unilateral capitulation of one of the opposing sides," Lavrov told students while answering questions at Moscow State Institute of International Relations.

"We are not holding on to any regime or any individuals in the Syrian situation," he added. "We are simply basing our position on what is realistic."

Isolating of Assad

Westerwelle noted that it was clear the international community was edging closer to the "continued isolation of the Assad regime," during this week's summit of nonaligned countries in Iran. He was referring in part to Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi's offer of support for the Syrian opposition movement as the summit opened on Thursday.

"Above all, I welcome the fact that President Mohammed Morsi addressed the Assad regime with such clear words in Tehran" he said.

Morsi said his country had a "moral obligation" and "political necessity" to show "solidarity with the Syrian people against a regime that lost its legitimacy," prompting a walkout from the Syrian delegation.

Germany is due to end its two-year tenure as one of 10 nonpermanent members of the UN Security Council at the end of 2012. It will not be eligible for immediate re-election. Permanent council seats are held by Russia, China, the US, France and Britain.

Airbases attacked

According to the opposition watchdog Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, rebel forces captured the main air defense building in the Abu Kamal region near the Iraqi border late Friday.

Syrian rebels are increasingly targeting the Assad regime's airpower. They launched attacks on a military airbase in Kouriss in northern Aleppo province as well as the Abu Zohur airbase in Idlib province in the northwest. The rebels claimed to have destroyed a dozen aircraft in the attacks.

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi on Friday told the new UN-Arab League envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, that the situation in Syria was deteriorating and Beijing was concerned about the humanitarian situation there. Brahimi, the successor of former special envoy Kofi Annan, officially began his work on Saturday.

ccp,slk/rg (AFP, dpa)