THE WORLDPOST
01/31/2012 07:54 am ET Updated Apr 01, 2012

Syria Uprising: Assad Forces Beat Back Damascus Rebels Ahead Of UN Security Council Resolution Vote

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis and Louis Charbonneau

AMMAN/UNITED NATIONS, Jan 31 (Reuters) - Syrian government forces reasserted control of Damascus suburbs on Tuesday after beating back rebels at the capital's gates as diplomatic pressure mounted on President Bashar al-Assad at the United Nations.

Western and Arab diplomats pushed for a U.N. Security Council resolution which would call for Assad to step down to defuse a 10-month-old uprising against his family's dynastic rule.

They will make the case for a resolution adopting a plan by the Arab League for Assad to quit, with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe and Britain's William Hague presenting a united western front.

The resolution's fate depends on whether the Arabs and their Western backers can persuade Russia not to veto it.

But a senior Russian diplomat said in Moscow the move would only set the stage for civil war, Interfax news agency reported.

"The Western draft Security Council resolution on Syria will not lead to a search for compromise," it quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov as saying. "Pushing it is a path to civil war."

On the battlefront, activists in eastern districts of Damascus said troops fired in the air as they advanced beyond areas from which the defector Free Syrian Army withdrew, capping three days of fighting activists said killed at least 100 people. Tanks also swarmed into the area.

"The suburbs are under an unannounced curfew. A small grocery shop opened this morning and soldiers came and beat the owner and forced him to shut down," said an activist in the Ain Tarma neighbourhood on Tuesday.

Others said residents of some eastern districts were allowed to flee their neighbourhoods in vehicles by advancing troops, but that security forces in the district of Irbin rounded up young men at gunpoint and detained them.

Events on the ground are difficult to confirm as the Syrian government restricts most access by journalists.

Activist groups said 25 people were killed on Monday in Damascus suburbs and dozens more died in other parts of the country, mostly in raids in and around the central city of Homs, which has seen some of the heaviest attacks by Assad's forces.

Government troops were on the move as Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby and the prime minister of Qatar readied the appeal to the Security Council to back their call for Assad to quit power and prepare for elections.

NEW PHASE

The uprising against Assad - one of the most violent revolts of the "Arab Spring" - has entered a new phase in recent weeks, with an insurgency whose leadership is based in Turkey daring to show its face at the outskirts of the capital.

A last-ditch bid by Moscow to broker talks between Assad's government and rebels foundered when the opposition refused to attend, citing the continued killing, torture and imprisonment of the president's opponents.

Washington said countries needed to accept that Assad's rule was doomed and stop shielding him in the Security Council.

"It is important to calculate into your considerations the fact that he will go," White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Monday.

Syria dismissed the U.S. remarks.

"We are not surprised at the lack of wisdom or rationality of these statements and regret that they are still issued by countries that are used to making the Middle East an arena for their follies and failures," the state news agency quoted a foreign ministry source as saying.

A draft of the U.N. Security Council resolution, obtained by Reuters, calls for a "political transition" in Syria, and says the Security Council could adopt unspecified further measures if Syria does not comply with its terms.

It endorses the Arab League power transfer plan. So far Moscow has shown little sign of being persuaded to let it pass.

Nevertheless, some Western diplomats said they hoped Russia and China could be persuaded not to block the draft.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for consensus among the Council to stop the bloodshed, saying: "Every day tens of people are killed ... It is crucially important for the Security Council to act on this."

REBELS SHOW FACE IN CAPITAL

Assad's forces appear to have decisively beaten back an attempt by the opposition to assert themselves near Damascus.

An activist said armed defectors mounted scattered attacks on government troops who advanced through the district of Saqba, held by rebels just days earlier.

Their forays near the capital follow a negotiated victory in Zabadani - a town of 40,000 in mountains near the border with Lebanon - after government forces pulled back under a ceasefire.

Some rebel commanders have spoken of creating "liberated" territories to force diplomatic action.

Bloodshed and unrest are not confined to the capital.

Homs residents said fighting erupted on Monday in the al-Qusour neighbourhood, and several armoured vehicles belonging to loyalist forces where destroyed.

Demonstrations have rippled through the northern commercial hub of Aleppo since pro-Assad militiamen killed 10 people after a demonstration on Friday. Activists said security forces cut electricity to one district and arrested 100 youths after an anti-Assad protest.

The United Nations said in December more than 5,000 people had been killed in the protests and crackdown. Syria says more than 2,000 security force members have been killed by militants. (Additional reporting by Suleiman al-Khalidi and Steve Gutterman; Writing by Joseph Logan; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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