Syrian troops shell besieged town

Activists say Syrian troops have shelled the mountain resort town of Zabadani near the border with Lebanon, and living conditions are deteriorating there after six days of siege.

Russia to block any attempt to secure UN support for use of force against Syria

Activists say Syrian troops have shelled a town near the border with Lebanon, and living conditions are deteriorating there after six days of siege.

A resident and activist in the mountain resort of Zabadani describes the town as a "war zone." He says dozens of anti-government army defectors are deployed at the entrances to prevent any attempt by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad to storm the area.

The man who identified himself only as Fares for fear of government reprisals told The Associated Press by phone that the town was shelled with mortars shortly before noon Wednesday.

Thousands of people have been killed in the regime's crackdown on the anti-Assad revolt, which began as a peaceful uprising 10 months ago but which has turned increasingly militarized in recent months.

The conflict has had a dramatic effect on Syria's economy, reports the CBC's Margaret Evans, one of the few international journalists allowed in the country.

The International Monetary Fund says Syria's economy will get smaller this year, something that hasn't happened in almost a decade.

Evans, reporting from the capital of Damascus on Wednesday, spoke with people who are finding it harder to make a living, and are expressing fear and disappointment over the conflict.

"Power cuts are now a part of life here … the value of the Syrian pound is dropping and prices are rising, making it difficult they say to find both products and customers," Evans said.

While some of the Syrians she spoke to said they would like their lives to return to normal, others say they understand why people are calling for change.

Russia against foreign military interference

In other news Wednesday, Russia said it will block any attempt by the West to secure UN support for the use of force against Syria.

Maher Arar on Syria

Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen who was detained by U.S. officials in New York and returned to his native country of Syria nearly a decade ago, where he was tortured during his 10 months in prison, told CBC's Evan Dyer that he believes the country has already tipped into civil war.

Arar, a software engineer living in Ottawa, said Syria may soon face wholesale massacres on ethnic lines as occurred in Iraq in 2006.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his family come from the small Alawite sect that represents about 10 per cent of the Syrian population. The rebellion is strongest in areas that are home to the Sunni Muslim majority.

Arar said rebels need to keep reminding themselves, just as he did in prison, that the regime is the enemy, and not an ethnic group.

"There are very brave and courageous Alawite people who are opposing the Assad regime," Arar said.

He said most Alawites have seen little benefit from their sect's stranglehold on power, "and I think why they have backed the Assad regime is not because they love it but because they're scared of what comes next."

Arar said that fear of ending up like Iraq's Christians, a community that is now all but vanished, is leading Syria's Alawites to tie their future to that of a dead-end regime, making it more likely they will end up in an ethnic civil war they can't hope to win, Dyer reported.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Russia's draft of a UN Security Council resolution on the violence in Syria that circulated Monday was aimed at making it explicitly clear that nothing could justify a foreign military interference. Western diplomats said it fell short of their demand for strong condemnation of Assad's crackdown on civilians that has left more than 5,000 people dead.

The Security Council has been unable to agree on a resolution since the violence began in March because of strong opposition from Russia and China. In October, they vetoed a West European draft resolution, backed by the U.S., that condemned Assad's attacks and threatened sanctions.

Lavrov said Russia would reject any attempts at securing a UN sanction for military interference in Syrian affairs.

"If some intend to use force at all cost … we can hardly prevent that from happening," he said. "But let them do it at their own initiative on their own conscience, they won't get any authorization from the UN Security Council."

Lavrov also said that Russia doesn't consider it necessary to offer an explanation or excuses over suspicions that a Russian ship had delivered munitions to Syria despite an EU arms embargo.

Lavrov told a news conference that Russia was acting in full respect of the international law and wouldn't be guided by unilateral sanctions imposed by other nations.

"We haven't violated any international agreements or the UN Security Council resolutions," he said. "We are only trading with Syria in items which aren't banned by the international law."

Lavrov accused the West of turning a blind eye to attacks by opposition militants and supplies of weapons to the Syrian opposition from abroad.

With files from CBC News