The UN Security Council has approved an extension of the military observer mission in Syria. The renewed mandate comes a day after China and Russia vetoed a resolution that would have threatened Damascus with sanctions.
China and Russia joined the Security Council on Friday and voted in favor of extending the United Nations' military observer mission in Syria by 30 days, although violence on the ground continues to prevent the observers from fulfilling their mandate.
Both Beijing and Moscow vetoed that resolution against the objections of 11 other council members. The two veto-wielding, permanent members had argued that the Chapter 7 resolution would have opened the door to a Western-backed foreign military intervention of the kind seen in Libya in 2011.
Chapter 7 of the UN charter enables the Security Council to impose both sanctions and the use military force. But the major Western powers - such as France, Germany, the UK and the US - have shown little appetite - at least publicly - for a military intervention. Instead, they have emphasized the importance threatening sanctions as a way to give teeth to UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan's peace efforts.
The 300-strong UN observer mission originally deployed to Syria in May. The observers, led by Norwegian Major General Robert Mood, have the task of documenting the violence in Syria in order to determine whether or not rebel and government forces are implementing Annan's peace plan.
Annan's six-point plan originally came into force in April and called on the both sides to adhere to a cease-fire and for the regime to withdraw its heavy weapons from Syrian cities. But in the subsequent four months, the conflict has escalated into a full-scale civil war, which has now reached the heart of Damascus. The observers suspended their mission on June 16 due to the violence.
Civil war grips Damascus
In Damascus, troops loyal to the regime of President Bashar Assad launched a major offensive against rebels on Friday, re-taking the southern neighborhood of Midan. The government offensive comes a day after rebels seized several border posts on the Turkish and Iraqi frontiers.
Rebel fighters also clashed with government troops in Syria's second city, Aleppo, on Friday. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it was the fiercest fighting in the city so far.
The Observatory reported that at least 300 people were killed in clashes on Thursday, calling it the worst day of violence since the uprising began in March of 2011.
The violent escalation in Syria comes after rebels assassinated multiple top-ranking officials tasked with putting down the uprising. The government announced on Friday that General Hisham Ikhtiyar died from wounds suffered in Wednesday's bomb attack.
Former defense minister General Doaud Rajha, Assad's brother-in-law Assef Shawkat, and General Hassan Turkmani were also killed in that bombing. Turkmani was the head of the government's crisis cell, responsible for defeating the rebels.
The Syrian state news agency SANA reported on Friday that a state burial was held for the slain regime officials.
slk/sej (AP, AFP)