China and Russia have vetoed a Western-backed UN resolution that would have threatened sanctions to enforce an international peace plan for Syria. The veto comes as clashes continue in the Syrian capital, Damascus.
Beijing and Moscow axed the UN resolution on Thursday, arguing that it would open the door to a military intervention similar to the NATO air campaign that helped topple Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.
The two permanent, veto-wielding Security Council members were the only countries to vote against the measure. Eleven council members supported the resolution, while two others abstained from the vote. It is the third time that China and Russia have vetoed a resolution aimed at putting pressure on Assad.
The text was pushed by the western powers serving on the council, including France, Germany, Portugal, the United Kingdom and the United States. The document would have activated Chapter 7 of the UN charter, which opens the door to both sanctions and the use of military force.
But with European nations and the United States weary of intervening militarily in an already volatile region, the failed resolution focused instead on sanctions. The text would have issued an ultimatum to President Assad, calling on his regime to withdraw its heavy weapons from Syrian cities within 10 days or face non-military sanctions.
President Assad had originally agreed to withdraw his forces from population centers in April, when he signed on to UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan's six point peace plan. But Damascus has continued to regularly shell Syrian cities over the past three months.
Thursday's resolution also would have extended the 300 UN military observers' mission in Syria by 45 days. Their mandate is currently set to expire on Friday. Russia has drafted a competing resolution that would extend the observer mission by 90 days without tying it to Chapter 7 measures.
Russia's UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, said that the Western-backed resolution sought "to open the path to the pressure of sanctions and further to external military involvement in the Syrian domestic affairs."
In the run-up to Thursday's vote, international envoy Annan and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had tried to convince both Beijing and Moscow to support tougher measures against Assad, but to no avail.
The United Kingdom, which was the main sponsor of the text, expressed outrage that the resolution failed over Moscow and Beijing's vetoes.
"The United Kingdom is appalled at the veto of Russia and China," Britain's UN ambassador, Mark Lyall Grant, told the council after the vote.
"The effect of their actions is to protect a brutal regime," Grant said. "They have chosen to put their national interests ahead of the lives of millions of Syrians."
Franceaccused China and Russia of undermining Annan's efforts to craft and implement a plan to end the violence in Syria.
"Refusing Annan the means of pressure that he asked for is to threaten his mission," French UN Ambassador Gerard Araud told the council after the veto.
The spokesman for US President Barack Obama, Jay Carney, told reporters that the stalemate at the Security Council "will have repercussions for the countries that vetoed the resolution for a long time in terms of how they're viewed by the Syrian people. Because there is no doubt that Syria's future will not include Bashar Assad."
Rebels seize border posts
Meanwhile, Syrian rebels overran border posts on the Iraqi and Turkish frontiers on Thursday. The deputy interior minister of Iraq told the AFP news agency that the rebels had seized all of the border crossings between Iraq and Syria.
"All the border points between Iraq and Syria are under the control of the Free Syrian Army," Adnan al-Assadi told AFP by telephone.
"The border points and all the outposts are under the control of the Free Syrian Army," he said. "The Syrian army are focusing on Damascus."
The news agency Reuters reported continuing clashes in Damascus, with rebels moving deep into the heart of the city. Government troops reportedly continued to shell neighborhoods and launch helicopter gunship attacks.
Reports from Syria are nearly impossible to independently verify, due to severe regime restrictions on foreign journalists.
Assad appoints new defense minister
Syrian state television showed footage of President Assad swearing in his new defense minister on Thursday, a day after a bomb attack on a high-level security meeting killed the previous minister, General Daoud Rajha.
Assef Shawkat, President Assad's brother-in-law, and General Hassan Turkmani, the head of the crisis cell, also died in the bombing. Both the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) and an obscure Islamist group called Liwa al-Islam claimed responsibility for the attack.
Major General Robert Mood, who is heading a UN observer mission in Syria, said he had expressed his condemnation of the attack to the Syrian government, and painted a somber picture of the state of violence in the country.
"It pains me to say, but we are not on the track for peace in Syria, and the escalations we have witnessed in Damascus over the past few days are a testimony to that," Mood said in a statement to reporters.
slk/sej (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)