UNITED NATIONS: The UN General Assembly condemned President Bashar al-Assad’s “escalation” of the Syrian war on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila) as rebels battled to free inmates from a prison in the key city of Aleppo.
The vote came on the eve of talks between US President Barack Obama and Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a key player in the drama as leader of a former Syrian ally that now backs the revolt against Assad.
After three years of civil war—and with the death toll topping 90,000—leaders and envoys from world and regional powers are shuttling between capitals trying to drum up support for a negotiated end to the bloodshed.
But the way forward is difficult, as shown by the vote of Syria’s key ally Russia, a permanent Security Council member that fiercely opposed the UN resolution passed by 107 votes to 12 at the 193-member assembly.
The resolution, drawn up by Qatar and other Arab states with Western backing, expressed “outrage at the rapidly increasing death toll” in Syria.
It also condemned “the continued escalation in the use by the Syrian authorities of heavy weapons” and of ballistic missiles against civilians.
But the text was more controversial, and drew the ire of both Russia and Assad’s UN envoy, where it endorsed the opposition Syrian National Coalition as a player in future talks on a transition of power in Damascus.
The resolution welcomed the Coalition “as effective representative interlocutors needed for a transition.” An angry Russia said this would encourage opposition “armed actions” against the Assad government.
Russia and the United States have agreed to press for a new international conference on Syria expected to begin in Geneva next month.
But Russia’s UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin wrote to all 193 UN members ahead of the vote saying that supporting the resolution would “be a serious blow to all attempts to bring the Syrian sides to the negotiating table.”
The number of countries that backed the resolution was down from 133 when the last vote on Syria was held in August.
China, Iran, North Korea, Russia and Syria were among 12 countries to oppose the resolution. Fifty-nine, including Brazil, South Africa and India, abstained.