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UN Chief Urges Security Council To Bridge Gap On Syria


Syrian antigovernment protesters on January 29 carry a body during the funeral of a protester killed in earlier clashes in Baba Amro.

Syrian antigovernment protesters on January 29 carry a body during the funeral of a protester killed in earlier clashes in Baba Amro.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said ahead of a contentious Security Council meeting on Syria that the council needed to overcome differences over an Arab League plan to bring an end to violence there.

Veto-wielding Russia repeatedly said it opposed the proposal, saying it puts Syria on a "path to civil war."

Speaking on a visit to Jordan, Ban said he hoped the meeting would provide an opportunity to bridge differences.

"I sincerely hope that this meeting attended by many high-level representatives, including foreign ministers of some countries, will give a good momentum and opportunity to bridge their gaps of understanding and how to approach, to address, and solve this crisis," Ban said when questioned about Russia's opposition.

The Arab League, backed by the United States, France, and Britain, was briefing the council and was expected to ask members to adopt a resolution that calls on President Bashar al-Assad to hand over "full authority" to a deputy who will form a national unity government ahead of elections.

The text also reportedly insists there will be no foreign military intervention in the conflict.

See a UN correspondent's exclusive copy of the draft resolution ahead of the debate with changes tracked to reflect the Arab League observers' efforts

The U.S. ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, has called on the UN to end its "neglect" of the violence in Syria. Rice said the draft resolution was "straightforward."

In October, veto-holding douncil members Russia and China -- both traditional Syria allies -- blocked a resolution condemning the crackdown in Syria.

Speaking during a trip to Australia, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov insisted that "the solution should be a Syrian one," saying, "We have never said anywhere that keeping [Assad] in power should be the precondition for a settlement."

"[If the Syrian opposition] refuses to negotiate with representatives of the [Syrian] regime, what is the alternative -- finish off the regime?" Lavrov said. "If they demand that Assad step down but he doesn't, what should we do, call in the aviation and bomb [Syria]? We've been through that already. The Security Council will never approve that, I guarantee you."

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the British and French foreign ministers were heading to New York to push for backing of the draft resolution.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton "has been trying to get Foreign Minister Lavrov on the phone for about 24 hours. That's proven difficult."

Activists say more than 100 people have been killed since January 30, which activists said marked one of the bloodiest days of the rebellion against Assad's regime.

Rights activists reported that Syrian troops were crushing pockets of resistance on the outskirts of Damascus as they advanced further into eastern suburbs previously held by antigovernment forces after an offensive began on January 31.

The U.S. director of national intelligence, James Clapper, predicted on January 31 that Assad could not sustain his hold on power. Clapper told a Senate hearing that while it was only a question of time before the Syrian government collapsed, it could be a long time.

Assad earlier this month accused "a foreign conspiracy" of trying to destabilize Syria and vowed to restore order by "hitting terrorists with an iron fist."

Iranian Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in the runup to the scheduled UN debate criticized U.S. "interference" in Syrian affairs while saying he backed reform for the Syrian people.

Khamenei's comments -- thought to be his first on the unrest that has gripped ally Syria since March 2011 -- were carried by the official IRNA news agency.

The UN said recently that more than 5,400 people have been killed in the last 11 months, since the uprising began, and added that violence had increased to the point where it could no longer keep track of the death toll.

Compiled from agency reports
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