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Syrian Violence Dominates UN Security Council's 'Arab Spring' Debate

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (far left) meets with the Middle East Diplomatic Quartet, including several members participating via video link, in New York on March 12.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (far left) meets with the Middle East Diplomatic Quartet, including several members participating via video link, in New York on March 12.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has opened a Security Council meeting in New York with a call for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to act within the "next few days" on UN-Arab League peace proposals.

Ban's call comes after the UN-Arab League envoy on the Syrian crisis, Kofi Annan, left Damascus on March 11 without securing an agreement from Assad on a cease-fire that would halt his regime's military operations against opposition supporters.

"The Syrian government has failed to fulfill its responsibility to protect its own people and instead has subjected citizens in several cities to military assault and disproportionate use of force," Ban said. "These shameful operations continue."

Ban also urged the UN Security Council to speak with one voice.

"I appeal to the Security Council to unite strongly behind ending the violence and supporting Mr. Annan's mission to help Syria pull back from the brink of a deeper catastrophe," Ban said. "This is vital for the Syrian people and for the entire region."

The March 12 Security Council meeting was being attended by foreign ministers from Russia, the United States, Britain, Germany, and France.

Russia and China have vetoed previous UN Security Council draft resolutions condemning Assad's regime for the violence.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton implicitly called on Russia and China to back the Arab League approach to resolving the humanitarian and political crisis in Syria.

"Five weeks ago, this council was unable to stand united against the horrific campaign of violence that has shocked the conscience of the world, one that continues unabated as we meet," Clinton said. "We were blocked from even condemning the violence and endorsing a peaceful plan developed by Syria's own neighbors."

Clinton was expected to hold a bilateral meeting with Russian Foreign Secretary Sergei Lavrov later in the day.

Lavrov told the Security Council that the situation in Syria "remains a cause of grave concern" for Russia but also warned against what he called "risky recipes of geopolitical engineering."

"Making haste demands for a regime change, imposing unilateral sanctions designed to trigger economic difficulties and social tensions in the country, inducing the opposition to continue its confrontation with the authorities instead of promoting dialogue, making calls in support of armed confrontation and even foreign military intervention -- all of the above are risky recipes of geopolitical engineering that result in a spread of conflict and injecting confrontation in the region, instead of bringing an end to it," Lavrov said.

Meanwhile, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe demanded that Syrian leaders face international trials for their deadly crackdown on opposition protesters.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague told the Security Council that no government can justify "violence against their people."

Hague also called on Russia and China to stop vetoing UN resolutions that condemn Assad's regime for the violence.

"In the eyes of the overwhelming majority of the world, this council has so far failed in its responsibilities towards the Syrian people," Hague said. "It has failed to address the brutal oppression of peaceful protesters by the Syrian regime, and it has not yet put its weight and authority behind the efforts of the Arab League. It is time for the Security Council to show unity and to show leadership."

Meanwhile, dozens of civilians -- mostly women and children -- reportedly have been killed in Syria’s central province of Homs as the government crackdown continues.

Opposition activists accuse Syrian regime forces of carrying out a “massacre” of about 50 people as part of their yearlong crackdown on anti-regime protesters.

Syrian state-run media blamed "armed terrorist gangs" for the killings, saying the murders were aimed at discrediting security forces.

Neither claim could be independently confirmed because of reporting restrictions inside Syria.

The UN says well over 7,500 people have been killed during the past year in Syria as a result of the violence. Other estimates put the casualty toll higher.

With Reuters, AFP, AP, and dpa reporting