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UN condemns Syria terrorist attacks

By Edith M. Lederer

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Dec. 23 2011 5:31 p.m. MST

UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. Security Council strongly condemned Friday's terrorist attacks in Syria and sent condolences to the victims, their families and the Syrian people — but not to the government, which is the usual council practice.

Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said he left out several words to get support from all 15 council members.

The U.N.'s most powerful body remains deeply divided over the nine-month uprising against authoritarian President Bashar Assad, which has led to its failure to adopt a resolution on Syria and acrimonious exchanges and heightened tensions especially among major powers.

Western nations and the U.S. are demanding a resolution threatening sanctions if the violence doesn't stop and condemning Assad's crackdown, which the U.N. says has killed 5,000 people. But Russia and China, which have closer ties to Assad's regime, believe extremist opponents of the government are equally responsible for the bloodshed and oppose any mention of sanctions.

While the council was able to agree on a press statement on Friday's twin suicide bombs targeting Syria's intelligence agencies, it could not agree on another Russian-proposed statement Friday supporting the start of the Arab League mission to investigate Assad's crackdown. It called on all parties to show maximum restraint, but made no mention of the government crackdown on civilians.

The council also remains at odds over a revised Russian-drafted resolution circulated Friday which Germany's U.N. Ambassador Peter Wittig called "insufficient." He said the Western allies want a resolution incorporating all Syrian issues including spelling out the Arab League demands such as releasing political prisoners and calling for accountability for those who have perpetrated human rights violations.

Wittig said Friday's bombings are "a sign of escalation, that the situation is rapidly deteriorating."

"It underlines the need ... for the council to act: We cannot let the things just happen, we need to act here and those events underline the need to act urgently," he told reporters.

Churkin defended the Russian approach which still calls for an end to violence and a Syrian-led political process.

But he said even in early August, when the Security Council adopted a presidential statement endorsing these ideas, "unfortunately Syria was already seen as a target of opportunity for regime change" by the Western allies.

The result, he said, is a situation "where Syria is very close to civil war."

Churkin, who holds the council presidency this month, called a news conference to discuss the Russian-proposed statements and revised resolution on Syria — and also to respond to sharp comments Thursday from U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice at the end of a council meeting on Libya where Churkin called for a U.N. investigation of civilian deaths from NATO's bombing campaign.

Rice dismissed his call as "a cheap stunt" to distract from Moscow's failure to condemn the Syrian government's ongoing killing of protesters, adding: "Oh, the bombast and bogus claims."

The U.S., France, Germany and others have hailed the NATO bombing campaign for saving hundreds of thousands of Libyan lives. But Russia and its supporters argue that NATO misused the limited council resolution imposing a no-fly zone and authorizing the protection of civilians as a pretext to promote regime change in Libya. Libya's longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi was ousted after 42 years, captured and killed in October.

Churkin insisted that only a U.N.-mandated investigation can quickly address the issue of civilian casualties — and that the victims and their families shouldn't have to wait for the results of a U.N. Human Rights Council investigation in March and an investigation by the International Criminal Court.

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