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UN urged by Arab leaders to take action on Syria

The Arab League chief and the prime minister of Qatar urged the United Nations Security Council Tuesday to quickly take action on the crisis in Syria, as the regime's troops continue to crack down on the 11-month uprising.

Key talks come as Syrian troops push into Damascus suburbs

Pro-Syrian regime protesters, shout slogans and holds portrait of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a demonstration in Damascus, Syria, on Jan. 25. A draft UN resolution calls for Assad to step down, hand over power to his deputy, and pave the way for elections. (Muzaffar Salman/Associated Press)

The Arab League chief and the prime minister of Qatar urged the United Nations Security Council Tuesday to quickly take action on the crisis in Syria, as the regime's troops continue to crack down on the 11-month uprising.

Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby and Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani spoke at the UN in New York asking the 15-nation council to support the Arab League's plan that calls on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down.

Elaraby said he hoped the council would support the league but not attempt to take its place.

"We are attempting to avoid any foreign intervention, particularly military intervention [in Syria]," Elaraby said. "We have always stressed full respect of the security, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Syrian people."

Syria's UN Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari attacked the league for not consulting Syria's leadership.

Analogies to Libya

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told the Security Council that action to end the violence in Syria would be different from UN efforts to pacify Libya.

"I know that some members here may be concerned that the Security Council is headed toward another Libya," she said. "That is a false analogy."

The resolution, seen by The Associated Press, calls for "an end to all human rights violations and attacks against those exercising their rights to freedom of expression," and insists there will be no use of foreign forces in the country.

The foreign ministers of Britain, France, and the U.S. planned to stand together at key talks Tuesday and put pressure on Syria's long-standing allies, such as Russia and China, which have veto power and are stonewalling the council from taking action.  

Members of the Syrian opposition have travelled to New York and plan to confront Moscow during talks.

George Netto, spokesman for the opposition Syrian National Council, says his council is ready to negotiate, but "the first condition is for President Assad to step down."

Resolution called a 'path to civil war' by Russia

But a senior Russian diplomat warned Tuesday that pushing Assad to step aside is a "path to civil war."

"The Western draft Security Council resolution on Syria does not lead to a search for compromise," Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov wrote on Twitter. "Pushing this resolution is a path to civil war."

The draft resolution demands that Assad stop the crackdown and implement an Arab peace plan that calls for him to hand over power to his deputy and allow creation of a unity government, paving the way for elections.

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A compromise to the resolution, in which Assad would keep his title, but hand over power, is an attempt to address Russia's concerns, the CBC's David Common reported from New York.

If Assad fails to comply within 15 days, the council would consider "further measures," which could possibly include imposing economic or other sanctions.

A French official said the draft UN resolution has a "comfortable majority" of support from 10 of the Security Council's 15 members, meaning Russia or China would have to use their veto power to stop it. The official said Russia had agreed to negotiate on the draft, but it was not yet clear if it would be willing to back it if changes were made.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity in accordance with department rules.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday at a news conference in Amman, Jordan, that he was "encouraged by the League of Arab States' initiative to seek a political solution" to the Syrian crisis.

"It is more urgent than ever to put an end to this bloodshed and violence, to start a credible political solution that addresses the legitimate aspiration of the Syrian people and to protect their fundamental freedoms," Ban said.

Troops attack opposition forces around capital

Meanwhile, Syria's troops pushed into the outskirts of Damascus Tuesday, crushing pockets of resistance and advancing into suburbs briefly held by rebel forces.

A Syrian forces tank moves during clashes with Syrian army defectors, in the Rastan area in Homs province, on Monday. More than 200 people have been killed in clashes over the past five days, activists say. (Associated Press)

The conditions in Damascus are deteriorating, the CBC's Derek Stoffel reported Tuesday, according to Syrians in refugee camps across the border in Turkey and Turkish citizens with relatives in the Syrian capital.

"The regime is attacking opposition forces around the capital … in many parts of the capital, there is no gas and after 3 p.m., as it gets dark out, it's sort of an unofficial curfew. People are certainly staying away from the city streets," Stoffel reported.

Government forces on Monday regained control of most of the capital's eastern suburbs after dissident soldiers captured the territory last week. Soldiers moved early Tuesday into the two remaining towns still in rebel hands, activists said.

"Intense shooting was heard in Zamalka and Arbeen as the tanks advanced," the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, citing its network of sources on the ground. Regime forces made sweeping arrests in the nearby town of Rankous, activists said.

Some Syrians say they hope that a UN resolution will help bring a political end to the violence, Stoffel reported.

"One man in the refugee camps told me yesterday that if the UN is able to get an agreement here, then maybe that would convince some of the officials that are supporting Bashar al-Assad, the president," Stoffel said.

"Maybe they would see the world's pressure as sort of mounting and some of these officials would step down. The people are somewhat desperate for this to end."

More than 200 people killed over past 5 days: activists

The death toll from Monday's offensive rose to 100 people, making it one among the bloodiest days since the uprising began in March, according to the Observatory and the Local Co-ordination Committees, an umbrella group of activists.

Syria had agreed to an Arab League peace plan on Dec. 19, which calls for the government to stop killing protesters, pull its heavy weapons from cities, free political prisoners, and allow human rights organizations and foreign journalists into the country.

But the violence has continued. Activists estimate that more than 200 people have died in the past five days alone.

More than 150 foreign observers have travelled to Syria to determine whether the government was complying with the terms of the Arab League peace plan.

But, because of the surge in violence, the league halted the month-old observer mission, which had already come under heavy criticism for failing to stop the crackdown.

The league turned to the UN Security Council to throw its weight behind its peace plan, which Damascus has rejected.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé described what is happening in Syria as a "scandal," adding that Assad "has blood on his hands, so it's not possible that he continues to assume responsibilities."

With files from The Associated Press

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