Pressure mounted on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Wednesday, as Western powers sought a UN resolution that would give him ten days to silence his heavy guns or face tough sanctions.
According to an AFP report, Britain, France, Germany and the United States submitted a draft text to the United Nations that would impose tough measures on Damascus if Assad fails to implement UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan's plan.
The report noted that if Security Council members, including a reluctant Russia, approve it, the resolution would allow for non-military sanctions under Chapter VII of the UN charter if Syrian government forces keep up their offensive on cities.
The resolution condemns “the Syrian authorities’ increasing use of heavy weapons, including indiscriminate shelling from tanks and helicopters.”
The draft calls for an “immediate” end to violence by government and opposition forces and demands government troops return to barracks in line with the Annan plan and UN resolutions passed in April.
If Assad has not “fully complied” within ten days of the vote, says the draft, the council “shall impose immediately measures under Article 41 of the UN Charter.” Article 41 allows for economic and diplomatic sanctions but not military measures.
The resolution would renew the mandate of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria for 45 days, and calls on the mission to take on more political duties, moving away from monitoring a non-existent ceasefire.
AFP reported that negotiations on the Western draft and a rival Russian resolution, which does not mention sanctions, are to start on Thursday in New York. A vote must be held before July 20, when the mandate of the UN observer mission in Syria ends.
Russia opposes the use of Chapter VII but its deputy UN ambassador, Igor Pankin, did not threaten a veto, insisting that negotiations have not even started over the rival texts.
"It is not a time for games, who vetoes first," Pankin told AFP. "It is a time for deciding on the future of Syria with Syrian plans and people and letting them engage. So I don't think we should be asking questions whether we veto it or not."
Earlier, Annan said the motion should include "clear consequences" for the regime if it fails to act and reported that even Syria's staunch ally Iran and nervous neighbor Iraq now "support the idea of a political transition."
Meanwhile, AFP reported that violence across Syria killed 52 people on Wednesday, 23 of them civilians, 18 soldiers and 11 rebels, according to a Britain-based rights watchdog.
At the same time, Syrian rebel forces appealed to Moscow for intervention in the wake of the failures of the UN and the Arab League to stop Assad from slaughtering his people.
News agencies reported on Wednesday that leaders of the opposition Syrian National Council are in Moscow meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, after Annan admitted political solutions seemed to be ineffective.
Also on Wednesday, Syria's ambassador to Iraq, Nawaf Fares, defected from Assad’s regime. The ambassador’s defection comes barely a week after a top general, Manaf Tlass, defected from Assad’s army. Tlass is thus far the most influential military officer to have abandoned the Assad regime.