UN condemns Syria violence02/06/2012 - 09:48:01
The UN's top human rights body has voted overwhelmingly to condemn Syria over the slaughter of more than 100 civilians last week.
However, Damascus appears impervious to the ever-increasing global condemnation following a string of massacres.
Syria's most important ally, Russia, has refused to support any move that could lead to foreign intervention.
New bloodshed was reported across Syria on Friday, with troops firing on protesters and reports of further execution-style killings coming to light, while UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan urged Syrian president Bashar Assad once again to put a stop to the violence.
As Russian diplomats in Geneva dismissed the resolution as "unbalanced" and voted against the text, Russian president Vladimir Putin promised to press the Syrian government for an end to the violence, and insisted a political solution is still possible despite mounting frustration over the lack of diplomatic progress.
"It requires a certain professionalism and patience," Mr Putin said in Germany.
Russia, along with China, has twice used its veto power to shield Syria from UN sanctions.
Although Syria has become isolated since its forces launched a ferocious crackdown on dissent nearly 15 months ago, the May 25 massacre in a cluster of villages known as Houla has brought a new urgency to calls for the crisis to be resolved.
The UK Foreign Secretary, William Hague, said in Turkey: "Syria is on the edge. It is on the edge of a catastrophic situation, if we can imagine one even worse than the current situation."
A majority of countries in the 47-nation rights council supported a US- and Arab-led resolution condemning the "outrageous use of force against the civilian population" in Houla.
Mr Hague added: "We believe that the acts committed by the Syrian regime may amount to crimes against humanity and other international crimes, and demonstrate a pattern of widespread and systematic attacks against civilian populations."
He said evidence from UN observers and independent witnesses confirmed that security forces shelled Houla and that "government militia then went house to house slaughtering entire families without compassion or mercy".
New satellite images posted on the website of US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford showed signs of what look like freshly dug mass graves. A senior intelligence official confirmed the authenticity of the images.
Only Russia, China and Cuba voted against the resolution, with Uganda and Ecuador abstaining. The Philippines was absent.
The resolution blamed "pro-regime elements" and government troops for the massacre. But Moscow echoed the Syrian government's explanation for the killings, blaming rebels that the Kremlin says are trying to stir up a civil war.
Moscow's pro-Syria stance is motivated in part by its strategic and defence ties to Damascus, including weapons sales. Russia also rejects what it sees as a world order dominated by the US.
Speaking in Paris, Mr Putin said Russia was not backing the Syrian regime, but trying to "reduce the violence to a minimum".
"We are not for Bashar Assad or for his adversaries. We want to arrive at a situation where the violence is ended and the possibility of a civil war is completely avoided," he said.
US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said she does not quite buy the claim that Moscow is neutral in the Syrian conflict, saying in Oslo that Russia is viewed in the United Nations, in Damascus and around the world "as supporting the continuity of the Assad regime".
She said: "The continued supply of arms from Russia has strengthened the Assad regime. That Russia has maintained this trade … has raised serious concerns."
Activists say as many as 13,000 people have died in Assad's crackdown against the anti-government uprising, which began in March 2011 amid the Arab Spring. One year after the revolt began, the UN put the toll at 9,000, but many hundreds more have died since.
Despite the relentless violence, the Houla massacre stands out for its sheer brutality. Many of the dead were women and children who were gunned down in their homes.
Since then, two other mass killings were reported, both on Thursday. Thirteen bound corpses, many apparently shot execution-style, were found in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour, near the Iraqi border. Gunmen also killed 11 people on their way to work at a state-owned fertiliser factory in the central province of Homs, activists said.
There is no clear idea of who carried out the killings, although both sides traded blame.
On Friday, activists said Syrian security forces fired on thousands of protesters in different parts of the country as crowds poured into the streets to mark the Houla massacre.
An amateur video said to be taken in the posh Damascus neighbourhood of Mazzeh showed scores of people inside a mosque chanting: "Death is better than humiliation," and accusing the Syrian army of being traitors.
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