- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 4, 2012

Russia and China on Saturday vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution that sought to stop the Syrian regime’s brutal crackdown on an 11-month uprising as activists reported that Syrian security forces had “massacred” more than 250 people using mortar shells, tanks and snipers in the western city of Homs.

President Obama also accused Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime of murdering hundreds of Syrian citizens, including women and children.

At the Security Council, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice said the U.S. was “disgusted” by the veto by Russia and China.

Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s ambassador to the U.N., defended his country’s veto saying the draft resolution did not reflect Russian proposals that the Syrian opposition distance itself from “extremist groups” and that these groups end their attacks on state institutions.

The resolution did not “adequately reflect” the real state of affairs in Syria and has sent “an unbalanced signal to the Syrian parties,” he said.

Ms. Rice said the revised draft “more than accommodates” the concerns of its critics who worried about the use of force and sanctions.

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will travel with Russian foreign intelligence service chief Mikhail Fradkov to Syria on Tuesday to meet with Mr. Assad. Mr. Lavrov met Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in Munich earlier on Saturday to discuss developments in Syria.

Ms. Rice said opponents of the Security Council resolution “stand behind empty arguments and individual interests while delaying and seeking to strip bare any text that would pressure Assad to change his actions.”

In a thinly veiled swipe at Russia, she added, “This intransigence is even more shameful when you consider that at least one of these members continues to deliver weapons to Assad.”

Russia, one of five veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council, is reluctant to topple Mr. Assad in part to protect its huge military contracts with the regime.

The draft text supported an Arab League plan toward a peaceful resolution of the crisis.

Meanwhile, sources in Syria said more than 900 people had been wounded in the assault on the battered city. The death toll was expected to escalate as doctors faced an acute shortage of medical supplies and blood for transfusions. Video clips depicted chaotic scenes and a number of dead and wounded.

President Obama issued a sharply worded statement on Saturday in which he condemned the Assad regime’s “unspeakable assault against the people of Homs” and accused it of murdering hundreds of Syrian citizens, including women and children.

Assad must halt his campaign of killing and crimes against his own people now. He must step aside and allow a democratic transition to proceed immediately,” Mr. Obama said.

Syrians demonstrated in large numbers across the country on Friday to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the massacre in the city of Hama by the regime under Mr. Assad’s father, Hafez Assad.

“Thirty years after his father massacred tens of thousands of innocent Syrian men, women and children in Hama, Bashar al-Assad has demonstrated a similar disdain for human life and dignity,” Mr. Obama said.

The Syrian government has denied the accusations.

The Homs neighborhood Khalidiya has borne the brunt of the regime’s latest assault. Mortar shells rained down on the neighborhood throughout the night and were replaced by sniper fire early on Saturday morning, residents said.

Assad’s forces are massacring people in Khalidiya,” said a Homs resident who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of concern for his safety. Dozens of buildings had been destroyed, and several people are believed to be trapped under the debris.

Mousab Azzawi, a London-based spokesman for the Syrian Network for Human Rights, which comprises 113 activist groups, said in an Internet phone interview that the death toll in Homs is likely to rise dramatically because of a shortage of medical supplies and blood at the field hospitals. He said 953 persons have been injured, and 211 of them are in a very critical condition.

Residents rushing to the aid of those wounded or buried in debris were killed as security forces opened fire on their vehicles.

Video clips shared by Syrian activists showed chaotic scenes and a number of dead and wounded people. The authenticity of these images could not be independently verified as Syria has barred the entry of foreign journalists.

“Khalidiyah was targeted because it was the heart of the uprising,” Dr. Azzawi said.

He said the regime was trying to send two distinct messages — one to the Syrian people: that it is not afraid of repeating a massacre like in Hama in 1982; and the other to the international community: that it is not weakened and will fight to the end.

The regime’s forces also attacked Ar-Rastan and the desert city of Palmyra in Homs province. A major battle was under way against military deserters known as the Free Syrian Army in the city of Zabadani near the border with Lebanon.

“The regime is using aircraft to bomb the city, and more than 70 tanks” are engaged in the battle in Zabadani, said Abdullah Ali Al-Sayed, a member of the Free Syrian Army.

“The Assad regime has gone crazy,” he said, adding that the regime’s forces have used nail bombs in Zabadani.

A violent crackdown was also continuing in the province of Idlib in the northwestern part of the country and in the suburbs of the Syrian capital Damascus, where sources said 26 people had been killed in an attack on a funeral.

Mr. Obama said the regime’s policy of maintaining power by terrorizing its people “only indicates its inherent weakness and inevitable collapse.”

“The suffering citizens of Syria must know: We are with you, and the Assad regime must come to an end,” he said.