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U.N. Security Council Drafts Resolution on Syria

January 31, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT

JUDY WOODRUFF: Next tonight, mounting violence in Syria and a new diplomatic push to oust the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

Ray Suarez has the story.

RAY SUAREZ: Since the weekend, Syrian tanks and troops have been blasting rebel fighters in the suburbs of Damascus itself. At least 100 people were killed Monday alone. And, by today, protesters were left to pick up the wounded as the military regained control.

Farther north in Homs, more deaths, with activists reporting heavy shelling and machine gun fire by the Syrian army, all of which means the U.N.’s most recent estimate, more than 5,400 Syrians killed since March, is already out of date.

ALAIN JUPPE, French foreign minister (through translator): What’s going on in Syria is an absolute scandal. I have been saying it for weeks, not to say months.

RAY SUAREZ: French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe voiced the West’s mounting frustration on French radio today.

ALAIN JUPPE (through translator): The butchering continues, despite the presence of observers from the Arab League, who have just left. There are dozens or hundreds of deaths every week. This is not acceptable. This president has blood on his hands. It’s not possible for him to continue to assume responsibility for his country.

RAY SUAREZ: Juppe took that message to New York and the United Nations, where Western and Arab diplomats launched their own offensive. It’s aimed at ousting Syrian President Bashar Assad and ending the violence.

This afternoon, the 15-nation U.N. Security Council took up an Arab League proposal that’s won strong support from the U.S., Britain and France.

Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby.

NABIL ELARABY, Arab League Secretary-General (through translator): Arab states aim at taking up the Syrian crisis in an Arab context. We are attempting to avoid any foreign intervention, particularly military intervention.

RAY SUAREZ: The draft resolution demands an end to the Syrian government crackdown on the opposition. The plan would also require Assad to hand over power to his vice president. That, in turn, is supposed to set the stage for a new unity government.

The resolution before the Security Council says, if Assad fails to comply within 15 days, he could face unspecified further measures. Despite the threat, the Syrians showed no signs of giving ground.

BASHAR JA’AFARI, Syrian ambassador to the United Nations (through translator): The Syrian people were always capable of solving its crises and internal problems alone. It has never accepted any form of foreign intervention in its internal affairs and affairs of its homeland, Syria.

RAY SUAREZ: But it may never come to that. Russia, a key Syrian ally, has veto power in the Council. And Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, visiting Australia today, called the resolution a path to civil war.

SERGEI LAVROV, Russian foreign minister: I hope that knowledgeable people, reasonable people understand what it is about and would opt in favor of dialogue and engagement of everyone, not in favor of isolating somebody. Isolation doesn’t work.

RAY SUAREZ: Back in the Security Council, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tried to allay Russian and Chinese fears about U.N. military action.

SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Now, I know that some members here may be concerned that the Security Council could be headed toward another Libya. That is a false analogy. Syria is a unique situation that requires its own approach, tailored to the specific circumstances occurring there.

RAY SUAREZ: The Security Council was expected to continue discussing the resolution tomorrow. It remains unclear when a final vote might come.