UN Security Council set to discuss Syria

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The UN Security Council will discuss the Syria crisis Friday, when Western and Arab nations could make public their draft resolution condemning the government's deadly crackdown, diplomats said.

The unexpected meeting was announced by French diplomats after the council's five permanent members -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- held talks Thursday on the new resolution.

Friday's consultations were called by Morocco, the current Arab member of the 15-nation body, which has been unable to agree a resolution on Syria's fierce crackdown on the anti-government protests that erupted last March.

"A draft resolution could be sent to all members of the council tomorrow," a Security Council diplomat said.

A new resolution giving strong backing to the Arab League's initiative to end the Syria crisis has been drawn up by Britain, France, Germany and Arab nations, including Morocco and Qatar.

The draft's supporters hope for a vote next week. Arab League secretary general Nabil al-Arabi and Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al-Thani are to brief the council on Monday or Tuesday.

The Arab League has called on President Bashar al-Assad to hand over powers to a deputy so that elections can be held in Syria, where the United Nations says more than 5,400 people have been killed.

Russia and China used their veto powers as permanent members of the council to block a European resolution in October.

Russia has since proposed its own resolution, but there have hardly been any negotiations on the bid, which Western countries have said is unbalanced.

A Western diplomat said Friday's meeting "would be the response of a number of countries to the Russian resolution and the veto in October."

A copy of the draft resolution obtained by AFP "condemns the continued widespread and gross violations of human rights" and makes a new call for an immediate halt to the government crackdown.

If the draft is agreed upon, the council would say it "fully supports" the Arab League plan of January 22, which calls on Assad to hand over powers "to facilitate a political transition leading to a democratic, plural political system."

The draft resolution hints at sanctions which could be opposed by Russia and China.

The resolution notes Arab League economic sanctions ordered on November 27 and "encourages all states to adopt similar steps and fully to cooperate with the League of Arab States in the implementation of its measures."

Russia and China vetoed the last European resolution because they said it was part of a regime change campaign by the West. They have said they oppose any hint of sanctions.

Protests against the Assad family's 40-year reign erupted across Syria last year, inspired by the popular Arab uprisings that toppled longstanding dictators in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

Syrian security forces have responded with a military campaign that has seen massive assaults on a number of towns and cities. Pro-democracy activists said 34 civilians, including 10 children, were killed on Thursday alone.

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