Syria's death toll continues to mount as Western and Arab diplomats maintain their push for immediate United Nations action to stop the country's escalating political crisis.
Opposition activists said at least 59 people were killed across the war-torn country on Wednesday. One activist group, the Local Coordination Committees, said the figure includes 36 civilians and at least six army defectors who died in Wadi Barada, a valley in the mountains a few kilometers northwest of Damascus, near the Lebanese border.
More than 300 people were killed nationwide during the past week alone. Much of the violence has occurred near Damascus as government troops drove the rebel Free Syrian Army out of the city's eastern suburbs during several days of heavy fighting.
In Paris Wednesday, France's foreign minister said he hoped U.N. Security Council members could produce a compromise resolution on Syria by next week. Alain Juppe sought to address the concerns of Russia, a veto-wielding council member, by warning military intervention “would risk setting off a civil war.”
Russian officials have said they will oppose the resolution if it contains any hint of military action or regime change in Syria, a key regional ally. Russia's U.N. envoy said Wednesday a change in the current language calling for President Bashar al-Assad to step aside “would make it easier for us” to approve.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated that the Security Council must move quickly. She said Wednesday that every council member has to decide whether they are on the side of the Syrian people.or on the side of what she termed “a brutal dictatorial regime”.
In New York, U.N. envoys gathered behind closed doors Wednesday in hopes of hammering out language they can all accept in a resolution on Syria.
The new Western- and Arab-crafted draft endorses an Arab League plan calling on the Syrian president to stop his violent crackdown on the revolt, transfer power to a deputy and form a unity government to prepare for national elections. It also warns of “further measures” if Syria fails to comply. Damascus has rejected the plan as a violation of its sovereignty.
Western diplomats who addressed the Security Council Tuesday tried to reassure Moscow that the draft resolution would not lead to military intervention in Syria's 11-month opposition uprising against Mr. Assad. Moscow wants to avoid a repeat of a 2011 council resolution used by NATO to justify intervening in Libya on the side of rebels who ousted dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said Wednesday Moscow wants the Security Council to avoid voting on the draft for several days to give more time for council members to work out a “universally acceptable” text. The London-based rights group Amnesty International sharply criticized Moscow for what it called its “unconscionable” obstruction of U.N. efforts to help end the bloodshed in Syria.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, meanwhile, appealed to the Security Council to act quickly.
The Syrian government accuses armed terrorists of driving the anti-Assad revolt and killing 2,000 security personnel. The United Nations estimated the death toll from the unrest at 5,400 last month, before it stopped updating the figure because of difficulties in obtaining information.