Ban, Annan in pleas for action on Syria escalation

United Nations: UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan have led calls to the Security Council to unite and take concerted action to help end the escalating bloodshed in Syria and build momentum for a political transition.

Ban and Annan`s concern over the growing violence in Syria came as the 15-nation Council is scheduled to vote today on a Syrian resolution, which seeks non-military sanctions under Chapter 7 against President Bashar Al Assad`s regime.

Ban urged the Security Council to "shoulder its responsibility and take collective and effective action on the basis of UN Charter obligations and in the view of the seriousness of the situation on the ground," a statement by his spokesperson said. "Time is of the essence. The Syrian people have suffered for too long. The bloodshed must end now," Ban added.

As the 16-month old Syrian conflict worsens, the powerful Security Council has remained divided over the action and measures that need to be taken to get Assad to end the bloodshed and violence.

The resolution on Syria has been proposed by Britain, France, Germany and the US and seeks to extend the UN observer mission in the country for 45 days.

The resolution is tied to Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which would allow the Council to authorise diplomatic and economic sanctions as well as military intervention. The Council was scheduled to vote on the resolution yesterday but the vote was delayed after a request by Annan.

Russia and China have in the past vetoed two UNSC resolutions that threatened sanctions against Assad`s regime.

After the vote was postponed, France`s UN Ambassador Gerard Araud told reporters that the Council is "ready to negotiate" with Russia and China over the resolution. "We want to give diplomacy a chance but there has to be meaningful engagement on the side of Russia and China with our resolution," Germany`s UN envoy Peter Wittig said.

Annan, who has been meeting with representatives of various governments, urged members of the Security Council to "unite and take concerted and strong action that would help stem the bloodshed in Syria and build momentum for a political transition".

Annan condemned all bloodshed and violence and noted that the escalating violence, including yesterday`s bomb attack in Damascus, "only underscores the urgency of decisive Council action".

Ban also expressing alarm over the intensifying violence in Syria, strongly condemning the bomb attack at the National Security Headquarters in Damascus. "The Secretary-General reiterates that acts of violence committed by any party are unacceptable and a clear violation of the six-point plan," Ban`s spokesperson added.

"He is also gravely concerned about reports of the continued use of heavy weapons by the Syrian security forces, including in the Damascus area, against civilians, despite repeated Syrian government assurances that such weapons would be withdrawn".

A high-level meeting was underway in the National Security Headquarters building when the attack occurred, killing and wounding government officials.

Among those said to have been killed are Syria`s defense minister Daoud Rajha, Assad`s brother-in-law Asef Shawkat who was the deputy chief of staff of the Syrian military and former minister of defense and military adviser to Vice President Farouk Sharaa, Hassan Turkmani.

The Free Syrian Army is said to have claimed responsibility for the bombing, as has another opposition group.

In addition, there have been reports of clashes between Syrian government forces and opposition fighters in several neighbourhoods of Damascus.

Annan had put forward earlier this year a six-point plan that calls for an end to violence, access for humanitarian agencies to provide relief to those in need, the release of detainees, the start of inclusive political dialogue, and unrestricted access to the country for the international media.

"The deteriorating situation in Syria underscores the extreme urgency for all sides to stop armed violence in all its forms, implement the six point plan and move swiftly towards a political dialogue and a peaceful democratic Syrian-led transition," Ban`s spokesperson said.

The crisis in Syria has continued unabated since the uprising against Assad began 16 months ago.
The UN estimates that more than 10,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in Syria and tens of thousands displaced.

In addition, the mandate of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) ? which recently suspended its regular patrols due to the escalating violence on the ground ? ends on July 20, with Council members expected to decide on its future before then.

The Council established UNSMIS in April to monitor the cessation of violence in Syria, as well as monitor and support the full implementation of the Joint Special Envoy`s six-point peace plan.

Both the UN Secretary-General and Joint Special Envoy have previously expressed the hope that the Council can reach agreement on a course of action for the situation in the Middle Eastern country.

Ban met with China`s President Hu Jintao and Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi in Beijing yesterday for talks which included Syria.

Annan was in Moscow earlier this week for talks with Russia`s President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, focusing on what measures need to be taken to end the violence and the killing in Syria and how to proceed with a political transition there.