Syrian rights activists say Syrian troops have been crushing pockets of resistance on the outskirts of Damascus as they advance further into eastern suburbs previously held by antigovernment forces.
The Syrian Army's reported assault on January 31 into the towns of Zamala and Arbeen came hours before a scheduled United Nations Security Council debate on an Arab League draft resolution demanding that President Bashar al-Assad step down.
Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby and Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, who heads the league's Syria committee, will brief the Security Council on the Arab League plan, which calls for Assad to hand power to a deputy to form an interim national-unity government.
Veto-wielding Security Council member Russia has expressed opposition to the Arab League's plan. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov on January 31 called the proposal a "Western draft" that would put Syria on "a path to civil war" rather than a search for compromise.
Burhan Ghaliun, leader of the opposition Syrian National Council, said Russia's support for Assad was being "exploited." Speaking in New York on January 30, Ghaliun said any UN resolution that did not put an end to Assad's rule would allow him to continue "crimes against humanity" and lead Syria "further to the edge of civil war."
"We have come to the UN to seek the support of the Security Council in preventing the country from falling into a failed state," Ghaliun said.
"The Syrian National Council appeals to the United Nations and calls on the members of the Security Council to bear their full responsibility and vote on a definitive resolution condemning the crimes against humanity and recognizing the inaptitude of Bashar Assad as a president and asking him to step down."
'Stop The Violence'
British Prime Minister David Cameron has criticized Moscow's position, saying UN Security Council members must "live up to their responsibilities instead of shielding those with blood on their hands."
For his part, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe blamed Russia for blocking "all resolutions" aimed at bringing an end to "butchery" by the Assad regime.
"What is happening in Syria is a real scandal. I said it weeks and months ago," Juppe said. "The butchery continues despite the presence of Arab League observers, who have in any case withdrawn. There are dozens, hundreds of deaths every week. It's not acceptable."
Juppe said he hoped Russia could be convinced to drop its opposition any UN resolution that condemns Assad's regime.
"We're going to try. And what has moved and what has changed is the Arab League. The Arab League has made a plan that calls for a political transition and the removal of Bashar Assad, who has lost all his legitimacy," Juppe added.
"So the reason I'm going to New York with all our allies and the Arab countries, it is to press for this violence to be stopped."
The U.S. ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, has called on the world body to end its "neglect" of the violence in Syria. Rice said the draft resolution was "straightforward."
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- who plans to attend the January 31 Security Council session -- said Washington had been discussing the Arab League's plan with Moscow.
Scores Killed In Syria
Meanwhile, back in Syria, the opposition Syrian National Council has called for a "day of mourning and anger" on January 31 to protest the assault on heavily populated neighborhoods on the eastern edge of Damascus.
The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than 180 people have been killed there since January 29. Government forces, backed by tanks and heavy artillery, also reportedly have arrested hundreds.
Opposition activists say many military deserters in the Free Syrian Army had pulled back from the Damascus suburbs since January 30 and that remaining fighters were running low on ammunition.
But a Free Syrian Army fighter in the region of Homs claimed they regained full control of the town of Rastan on January 31 after days of intense clashes there.
As violence continued in Syria, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the Arab League's decision to suspend its monitoring mission over the weekend could have negative consequences.
"We are gravely concerned that as these Arab League monitors have pulled out, the Syrian regime has taken this as an excuse to just let loose in horrific ways against innocents," Nuland said.
Compiled from agency reports