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U.N. Calls for End to Syrian Crackdown, Assad to Step Down

February 16, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT

JUDY WOODRUFF: The United Nations went on record today demanding change in Syria. But the killing continued apace.

Ray Suarez has our story.

RAY SUAREZ: The vote in the U.N. General Assembly endorsed an Arab League proposal 137-12, with 17 nations abstaining. The nonbinding resolution called for Syria to end its violent crackdown and for President Bashar al-Assad to step down.

Russia and China vetoed a similar measure in the U.N. Security Council, but the Egyptian ambassador said the Arab League still wants action.

MAGED ABDELAZIZ, Egyptian ambassador to the United Nations (through translator): The League today stresses the need for an immediate, complete, and faithful implementation of all the provisions of the Arab action plan, it being the only ideal means to realize the aspirations of the Syrian people that are legitimate.

RAY SUAREZ: Meanwhile, the violence inside Syria raged on, as the army kept up an assault on Homs and other cities.

Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News made his way to one town under siege, Saraqib. Fighters from the Free Syrian Army are trying to hold government forces at bay.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: Saraqib is home to a deadly game of cat and mouse. The militiamen opened fire on tanks which we saw stationed along the outer highway, President Assad’s snipers, hidden in empty buildings, trying to pick the militiamen off. And, sometimes, government tanks shell the outskirts of the town, including this school, which, like every other school in Saraqib, has been shut for the last three months.

One in Saraqib, many Syrians seemed happy to see us. But their town is a no-man’s land. The place and governor have fled. The town’s hated Baath Party headquarters have been burnt down. The place is said to be riddled with government informers, and the mobile phone network has been cut.

In the town’s hospital this morning, we found a woman who said she was shot by a government sniper yesterday. Although these militiamen defend Saraqib, control it, they do not. And if government forces ever return, many fear brutal reprisals.

“We heard what happened in Homs,” said this fighter. “Maybe it could happen here.”

Even if their military hardware fails to impress, their spirits are remarkably high also, says the primary school teacher, who sits on the coordination committee of Saraqib’s uprising.

You say you have got 400 men defending this town, but you’re still heavily outnumbered and heavily outgunned, aren’t you?

BADR SHLASH, coordinating committee (through translator): We depend on more troops leaving Assad, and upon the strong will of local people. Though we have light weapons, we depend on Allah and the courage of local people.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: In Saraqib, even the children, armed with wooden Kalashnikovs, chant, “Death to President Assad.”

And some of their parents are no less defiant. “We won’t be satisfied until we have Bashar’s head,” they sing. “We are martyrs going to heaven.”

RAY SUAREZ: In Washington today, the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, told Congress al-Qaida may have infiltrated the Syrian opposition and bombed Syrian government targets.