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Syria Conflict: General Assembly To Ask Bashar Assad To Step Down

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SYRIA CONFLICT GENERAL ASSEMBLY
This citizen journalism image provided by Shaam News Network SNN, taken on Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2012, purports to show Syrians holding a large Syrian revolutionary flag during the funeral procession of Mohammed al-Naan in Damascus, Syria. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, SNN) | AP

UNITED NATIONS — Arab countries pushed ahead Wednesday with a symbolic U.N. General Assembly resolution that tells Syrian President Bashar Assad to resign and turn over power to a transitional government. It also demands that the Syrian army stop its shelling and helicopter attacks and withdraw to its barracks. A vote is set for Friday morning.

The draft resolution circulated up through Wednesday takes a swipe at Russia and China by "deploring the Security Council failure" to act. Moscow and Beijing have used their veto in the smaller, more powerful Council three times to kill resolutions that could have opened the door to sanctions on Syria.

While the 193-member General Assembly has no legal mechanism for enforcing a resolution, an overwhelming vote can carry moral and symbolic power. Voting is by simple majority, and there is no veto.

The U.N. reported a significant escalation in Syria's civil war Wednesday, with the military using warplanes to fire on opposition fighters in the 12-day battle for Aleppo.

The General Assembly draft resolution, written by Saudi Arabia and lobbied for by Egypt and Bahrain, is an attempt to get around the stalemate in the Security Council.

"What's important here is that a meeting of the General Assembly on this topic would be an expression of the frustration felt in the international community at large about what's happening in Syria and the inability of the international community, so far, to be able to help bring an end to the violence that everybody wishes to see," said Martin Nesirky, spokesman for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

France, which took over the Security Council presidency for the month of August on Wednesday, has called for a foreign minister-level meeting of the Security Council to address the Syria crisis. It was not clear what that could accomplish.

U.N. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to be quoted, said the Arab countries might be ready to weaken some provisions of the draft resolution to guarantee a larger majority vote. The last General Assembly resolution on Syria had 137 votes in favor.

A Council diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said the Arab sponsors of the resolution had decided to make some "tweaks" in the text after receiving reaction from other delegations Wednesday, and were working to build the majority.

The resolution condemns the increasing Syrian military reliance on heavy weapons, including tanks and helicopters, and the "failure to withdraw its troops and heavy weapons to their barracks" in line with a set of proposals by U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, the former U.N. secretary-general who has been trying to mediate the crisis.

The resolution backs Annan's demand that "the first step in the cessation of violence has to be made by the Syrian authorities."

Reacting to Syria's recent confirmation that it has chemical weapons and its announcement that it would use them on any invaders, the General Assembly "demands that the Syrian authorities refrain from using, or transferring to non-State actors, any chemical and biological weapons, or any related material."

A vote had been set for Thursday morning but was postponed until Friday morning, the General Assembly spokeswoman's office announced late Wednesday.

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lebanon Hussein Ali Omar, 60, one of 11 Lebanese Shiite pilgrims that Syrian rebels have been holding for three months in Syria, hugs his mother, right, upon arrival at his house in the southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, 2012. Syrian rebels freed Omar on Saturday in a move aimed at easing cross-border tensions after a wave of abductions of Syrian citizens in Lebanon. The Shiite pilgrims were abducted May 22 after crossing into Syria from Turkey on their way to Lebanon. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)


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France24 correspondents Matthieu Mabin and Sofia Amara report from the front lines of a rebel offensive against the Syrian army in Damascus.

Watch the exclusive report in the video below.

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syria This image made from video and released by Shaam News Network and accessed Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012, purports to show the funeral of children in Daraya, near Damascus, Syria. Syrian troops backed by tanks and helicopters broke into a Damascus suburb on Thursday following two days of shelling and intense clashes as part of a widening offensive by President Bashar Assad's forces to seize control of parts of the capital and surrounding areas from rebel fighters, activists said. At least 15 people were killed in the offensive on Daraya, only a few miles (kilometers) southwest of Damascus. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network SNN via AP video)


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Clashes between Assad supporters and opponents of the Syrian regime killed two people in Lebanon on Friday, the Associated Press reports. 17 people were injured.

The AP gives more context:

Syria was in virtual control of its smaller neighbor for many years, posting tens of thousands of troops in Lebanon, before withdrawing under pressure in 2005. Even without soldiers on the ground, Syria remains influential, and its civil war has stirred longstanding tensions that have lain under Lebanon's surface.

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lebanon A Sunni gunman fires a gun during clashes that erupted between pro and anti-Syrian regime gunmen in the northern port city of Tripoli, Lebanon, Friday, Aug. 24, 2012. The latest round of fighting first erupted on Monday in northern Lebanon and at least 15 have been killed in Tripoli this week and more than 100 have been wounded in fighting that is a spillover from Syria's civil war. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)


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@ KenRoth : UN reports 200,000 #Syria refugees, 30,000 in past week alone. Many more internally displaced not counted. http://t.co/BaM6u59j

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syria Syrian boy Musataf Alhafiz, 11, who fled his home with his family due to fighting between the Syrian army and the rebels, carries his brother Saif, 9 months, while he and others take refuge at the Bab Al-Salameh border crossing, in hopes of entering one of the refugee camps in Turkey, near the Syrian town of Azaz, Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012. Thousands of Syrians who have been displaced by the country's civil war are struggling to find safe shelter while shelling and airstrikes by government forces continue. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)


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Helicopter gunships shelled Damascus on Wednesday as Syrian security forces intensified their assault on the capital. Activists report that at least 47 people were killed.

"The whole of Damascus is shaking with the sound of shelling," a woman in the neighborhood of Kfar Souseh told Reuters.

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@ jenanmoussa : Graphic. We saw in a mosque in #Syria these 4 children staring at dead body. Pic by @HaraldDoornbos: http://t.co/lgq8IAmO #warsucks @akhbar

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lebanon Lebanese commandos ride in an armored personnel carrier in preparation to enter the area of clashes between supporters and opponents of the Syrian regime, in the northern port city of Tripoli, Lebanon, Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2012. The civil war in Syria is affecting its fragile, tiny neighbor Lebanon in countless ways and has already spilled over into sectarian street clashes, kidnappings and general government paralysis.(AP Photo/Hussein Malla)


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Activists say that Syrian security forces swept through two districts in Damascus on Wednesday, killing at least 31 suspected opposition fighters. The Associated Press reports that the army may have been targeting rebel teams that had been using the Nahr Eishah and Kfar Soussa neighborhoods to shell a nearby military airport.

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@ AP : Russia says Western powers are "openly instigating" opposition groups in Syria: http://t.co/Il6rHsxr -SC

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