- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 19, 2012

United Nations — Russia and China blocked a U.S.-backed effort at the United Nations on Thursday to stop the escalation of Syria’s civil war as Syrian rebels took control of several of their nation’s border crossings with Iraq and Turkey.

U.S. diplomats privately predicted that the Security Council gambit by Russia and China ended any immediate role for the United Nations and could breathe new life into the embattled Syrian government, 16 months after protests erupted to demand an end to President Bashar Assad’s rule.

Mr. Assad, whose whereabouts is unknown, made a brief appearance on state TV on Thursday to swear in a new defense minister one day after three members of the president’s inner circle, including the defense minister, were killed at a high-level security meeting.

In Damascus, government troops launched a wide-ranging assault to snuff out rebels in the capital. But the military’s failure to swiftly vanquish lightly armed rebel forces and to avert the deadly bombing made Mr. Assad’s hold on power look increasingly tenuous.

Rebel sources say they are preparing for extended clashes in the capital that could last for months.

Syria's U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari (far left) and Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin (far right) listen to speakers July 19, 2012, during a Security Council vote at the United Nations. Russia and China vetoed a U.N. resolution to impose non-military sanctions on Syria. (Associated Press)
Syria’s U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari (far left) and Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly ... more >

“There have been training camps along Syria’s borders with Turkey and Lebanon, which have been preparing for this attack for three months,” said a weapons smuggler operating in Syria, Turkey and Lebanon who identified himself only as Hussam. “We have been [transporting troops] into Damascus and surrounding areas for months.”

“There are more to come,” he added.

At the U.N. Security Council, Russia and China vetoed a resolution that threatened sanctions against Mr. Assad if he does not end the use of heavy weapons. The resolution, sponsored by France and Britain, won 11 votes in the 15-member Security Council. Two other nations abstained.

Sen. John F. Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, blasted the move by Russia and China “as surreal as it is dangerous.”

“As Rome burns, they’re worried about saving Nero,” Mr. Kerry said.

But Russian Ambassador to the U.N. Vitaly Churkin said that “the vote never should have happened” because “it stood no chance of adoption.”

He added that the U.S., Britain and France are “trying to fan the flames inside the council.”

Chinese Ambassador Li Baodong also blasted the council’s three Western permanent members, saying they tried to “ram” through their resolution as a pretext for a full-fledged military intervention.

“They are up to their old tricks,” he said in reference to U.N. authorization for the NATO campaign that overthrew Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Moscow and Beijing publicly have stated that they intend to prevent such a repeat in Syria.

The fracture in the Security Council was apparent shortly before the vote when the Russian and Chinese ambassadors huddled on the Security Council floor, pointedly avoiding their U.S., British and French counterparts nearby.

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