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Russia, China oppose ‘forced regime change’ in Syria; Lavrov warns of ‘bigger drama’

China and Russia have reiterated their opposition to the use of force to resolve the crisis in Syria, where escalating violence has killed thousands of civilians who oppose President Bashar al-Assad.

As many as 25 people have been killed by the fire of Syrian security forces across the country on Wednesday, Al Arabiya reported, citing Syrian activists. 39 people were reported to have been killed on Tuesday.

Russia’s envoy to the European Union said on Wednesday he believes a Western-Arab draft U.N. Security Council resolution cannot pass without language clearly ruling out potential military intervention, the Interfax news agency reported.

Vladimir Chizhov’s remarks were the latest indication that Russia could veto the resolution, which supports an Arab League plan calling for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to cede power, if it is not changed to take Moscow’s concerns into account.

The draft “is missing the most important thing: a clear clause ruling out the possibility that the resolution could be used to justify military intervention in Syrian affairs from outside. For this reason I see no chance this draft could be adopted,” Chizhov said, according to Interfax.

Pressure at Security Council

Arab and Western states urged the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday at act swiftly on a resolution calling for Assad to step aside.

The United States strongly backed the call by the Arab League and Qatar for “rapid and decisive action,” which came as Assad’s government forces reasserted control of Damascus suburbs after beating back rebels at the gates of the capital.

“China is firmly opposed to the use of force to solve the Syrian problem and resolutely opposes pushing for forced regime change in Syria, as it violates the United Nations Charter and the basic norms guiding the practice of international relations,” Xinhua quoted Chinese Ambassador to the United Nations Li Baodong as saying to the Security Council.

The brief news report from Xinhua did not give other details.

China, along with Russia, has resisted a Western push for a Security Council resolution condemning the Syrian government’s 10-month crackdown on pro-reform protests.

No support for any action

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said they would not support any action that would be imposed on Syria and would avoid taking sides in an internal conflict, according to Reuters.

“The international community unfortunately did take sides in Libya and we would never allow the Security Council to authorize anything similar to what happened in Libya,” Lavrov said in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

“Yes, we condemn strongly the use of force by government forces against civilians, but we can condemn in the same strong way the activities of the armed extremist groups who attack government positions, who attack administration in various provinces of Syria, who attack a police station and who terrorize people telling them not to come to jobs, not to come to hospitals, not to come to shops.”

China and Russia have prevented the Security Council from approving any military intervention in Syria and vetoed a Western-backed resolution against Assad’s government.

Arab League Secretary-General Nabil al-Araby called on the council to take “rapid and decisive action” by approving the resolution. Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani warned that Syria’s “killing machine is still at work.”

Syrian U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari rejected the suggestion his government was responsible for the crisis, and accused Western powers of dreaming of “the return of colonialism and hegemony” in the Middle East.

Council of Europe top official Jean-Claude Mignon on Wednesday urged Russia to back U.N. action aimed at halting the killing in Syria, saying that it has the duty to act.

“We hope that Russia does not forget its engagements within the Council of Europe, and that it adopts the same attitude in the U.N. Security Council to vote for the resolution,” said the president of the Council of Europe’s parliamentary assembly.

“Neither the Security Council nor the Council of Europe intends to interfere in Syrian domestic affairs, but here we are confronted with a humanitarian tragedy.

“I think that it is our duty, even a question of our honor, to step forward,” said Mignon, calling the situation in Syria “intolerable.”

“The defense of human rights is something universal and while Syria is not within the scope of the Council of Europe, we have already spoken out in other circumstances, such as the Arab Spring,” Mignon told AFP.

Some 6,000 people have been killed in Syria since the pro-democracy uprising began in mid-March, according to French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe.
Russia has a “less negative” attitude towards a UN Security Council resolution demanding an end to bloodshed in Syria that has now killed 6,000 people, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Wednesday.

“For the first time, the attitude of Russia and the BRICS (China, India and South Africa on the Security Council) is less negative,” Juppe told MPs, also announcing a death toll of 6,000 since the uprising began in mid-March.

The previous toll, from the U.N., was 5,400 killed, but activists say hundreds more have died in recent clashes between President Bashar al-Assad’s security forces and rebel fighters of the Free Syrian Army.

“We have unfortunately until today been blocked at the Security Council by Russia’s veto threat and the hostility of what are known as the BRICS,” Juppe said, briefing ministers on his return from the UN in New York.

“So we will work relentlessly in the coming days to try to agree a resolution that will allow the Arab League to put all its efforts into finding a solution. A window of hope has opened,” Juppe said.

Military intervention

Al-Araby said Arab nations wanted to avoid foreign military intervention in the Syrian crisis.

“We are not calling for a military intervention,” Sheikh Hamad said. “We are advocating the exertion of a concrete economic pressure so that the Syrian regime might realize that it is imperative to meet the demands of its people.”

Lavrov said the policy of isolation and seeking regime change risked igniting a “much bigger drama” in the Middle East.

“The people who are obsessed with removing regimes in the region, they should be really thinking about the broader picture. And I'm afraid that if this vigor to change regimes persists, we are going to witness a very bad situation much, much, much broader than just Syria, Libya, Egypt or any other single country.”

Beijing, which generally avoids taking action in the domestic affairs of other nations, has played a low-key role in the turmoil that has swept the Middle East and North Africa.

But it has also moved swiftly to normalize ties with governments that have been overthrown by popular revolts, such as in Libya.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, backed by her French and British counterparts as well as Qatar’s prime minister, led the charge for a tough U.N. resolution that would call on Assad to end the bloodshed and hand over power, according to AFP.

“We all know that change is coming to Syria. Despite its ruthless tactics, the Assad regime's reign of terror will end,” Clinton told the U.N. Security Council.

“The question for us is: how many more innocent civilians will die before this country is able to move forward?”

U.S. officials said that Clinton tried unsuccessfully for two days to speak to Lavrov. Clinton dismissed suggestions that Lavrov snubbed her, saying that it was difficult to reach him in distant Australia.

The draft resolution, which was introduced by Arab League member Morocco, calls for the formation of a unity government leading to “transparent and free elections.”

It stresses that there will be no foreign military intervention in Syria as there was in Libya, helping to topple Muammar Qaddafi.

Fall of Assad inevitable

In Washington, U.S. intelligence chief James Clapper said the fall of the Assad regime was in any case inevitable.

“I do not see how he can sustain his rule of Syria,” Clapper told senators. “I personally believe it's a question of time but that's the issue, it could be a long time.”

The opposition Syrian National Council meanwhile deplored the international community’s lack of “swift action” to protect civilians “by all necessary means,” in a statement on Facebook.

On Monday alone, almost 100 people, including 55 civilians, were killed during a regime assault on the flashpoint city of Homs, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The rebel Free Syrian Army said half of the country was now effectively a no-go zone for the security forces.

“Fifty percent of Syrian territory is no longer under the control of the regime,” its Turkey-based commander Colonel Riyadh al-Asaad told AFP.

He said the morale of government troops was extremely low. “That’s why they are bombing indiscriminately, killing men, women and children,” he said.

CIA director David Petraeus told senators in Washington that Assad now faced challenges in Damascus and Aleppo, two cities that had been seen as insulated from the unrest.

“I think it has shown indeed how substantial the opposition to the regime is and how it is in fact growing and how increasing areas are becoming beyond the reach of the regime security forces,” Petraeus said.