The UN Human Rights Council has issued a sharp attack on Syria, condemning "continued widespread and systematic violations of human rights" amid a bloody crackdown on rebel groups calling for the regime's ouster.
The resolution, adopted at a council meeting in Geneva after being tabled by Qatar and Turkey earlier this week, calls for an end to all rights abuses and "free and unimpeded" access for aid agencies to victims of the bloodshed.
Civilians in flashpoint cities such as Homs, Dara and Zabadani were pinpointed as being in need of urgent help.
Russia, China and Cuba voted against the resolution, whilst India, the Philippines and Ecuador abstained. In all, 37 of the 47 countries represented on the body supported the new joint declaration against the Syrian regime. The Syrian representative to the HRC boycotted the debate.
The resolution comes after the new UN and Arab League envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan, said he would push for access to the country in the coming days. Annan, a former UN secretary general, said after meeting with current Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that he would take a "clear" message to Damascus that the killing must end.
In a sign of the worsening crisis in Syria, Britain said Thursday it had withdrawn its diplomatic staff from the capital on security grounds. A Foreign Office spokesperson added that Britain had not broken off diplomatic ties with Syria and that the Syrian embassy in London would remain open.
Meanwhile, the Syrian army was engaged in a prolonged ground operation on Thursday aimed at ending resistance in the central city of Homs. A Syrian security source told news agencies that the army had been trying to retake control of the rebel-held neighborhood of Baba Amr.
Syrian forces said Thursday they would "cleanse" the area of "terrorists," according to state media. Government forces have been shelling Homs for the past 27 days with a particular focus on Baba Amr.
Homs has been completely isolated by the assault, activists with the self-styled rebel Free Syrian Army said, and government forces recently blew up an underground aqueduct that had been used to smuggle in desperately needed supplies from outside.
The Syrian National Council said it was creating a military bureau to unite and coordinate armed rebel groups across the country "under one central command." The bureau would be staffed by civilians and military personnel, said SNC President Burhan Ghalion in Paris.
"The Syrian Revolution began as a non-violent movement and has maintained its peaceful nature for months," the SNC said in a statement. "The situation has changed and the SNC will shoulder its responsibilities in light of this new-found reality."
dfm/acb (AFP, Reuters, AP)