Veto-powers are engaged in tough wrangling to draft a UN Security Council resolution that could put Syria's chemical weapons under international control. Top Russian and US diplomats are to consult in Geneva on Thursday.
Envoys of the five veto-wielding powers were due to discuss Syria's chemical weapons on Wednesday at the UN headquarters. UN chief Ban Ki-moon welcomed President Barack Obama's decision on Tuesday to hold off on US military action.
Ban's spokesman Farhan Haq said it was also "crucially important" for council members to address the wider problem of solving Syria's two-and-a-half-year conflict.
That coincided with claims by opposition activists that Syrian government warplanes had bombed a field hospital at al-Bab, near the northern city of Aleppo on Wednesday, killing 11 people. There was no independent verification.
Obama had declared Tuesday that the US military, which has numerous warships positioned near Syria, was "ready to respond" if diplomacy failed.
Russian plan 'handed over'
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was quoted by the news agency Interfax as saying that Moscow had "already" handed over to the US a plan for putting Syria's chemical weapons under international control.
His counterpart in Geneva will be US Secretary of State John Kerry, who has repeatedly accused the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of perpetrating a chemical attack in eastern Damascus on August 21.
Kerry's spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Kerry while visiting Geneva wanted to "hear" about Russia's "modalities" and assess whether these met US "requirements" for the disposal of Syria's weapons. Psaki said Kerry would also meet in Geneva with the UN-Arab League special envoy on Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi.
At the White House, Obama's press secretary Jay Carney said the disposal task would "obviously take some time." Russia as Syria's ally had done more on the matter in the past two days than during the previous two years, he added.
In Geneva, Red Cross chief Peter Maurer said he hoped political "energy" would also be applied to improve safety for humanitarian staff in Syria and access to besieged civilians.
He said 22 Syrian Red Crescent workers had been killed since the conflict began in March 2011. Maurer said he was available for talks with Lavrov and Kerry.
France seeks prosecution
Laurent Fabius, the foreign minister of France, which had also been ready to strike Assad's regime, said a French draft resolution would demand that Syria open its weapons program to inspection and ultimately dismantle it.
He said a violation of those precepts would carry "very serious consequences." The French resolution would also seek to bring to justice those responsible for August 21.
Elsewhere, inside Syria on Wednesday, heavy fighting flared again in the ancient mainly Christian township of Maaloula, near Damascus. Troops were said to be trying to extract rebels units which entered last week. Most residents have fled.
The hill-top township was a major tourist venue before the civil-war.
Red Cross Middle East head of operations, Robert Mardini, said ICRC water engineers were still trying to repair a main water pipeline between Homs and Hama damaged by fighting in mid-August that served 1.3 million people.
Mardini said the agency was delivering water by truck for about 400,000 a day.
ipj/ccp (AFP, dpa, AP, Reuters)