JEFFREY BROWN: Recriminations flew at the United Nations today after a new push to punish Syria came to naught again. As diplomacy failed, a Syrian human rights group reported more than 250 people died today in fighting across the country, and Damascus itself slid closer to chaos.
SUSAN RICE, U.S. ambassador to the U.N.: The Security Council has failed utterly in its most important task on its agenda this year.
JEFFREY BROWN: The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, minced no words after Russia and China once again vetoed a resolution that threatened sanctions on Syria.
SUSAN RICE: One can only hope that one day, before too many thousands more die, that Russia and China will stop protecting Assad and allow this council to play its proper role.
JEFFREY BROWN: It was the third time Moscow and Beijing have blocked U.N. efforts to make Syrian President Bashar al-Assad stop the attacks on his own people. And this latest veto drew condemnation from country after country.
PETER WITTIG, German ambassador to the U.N.: Today was an opportunity lost. History will show us price that the people in Syria and beyond will have to pay.
SIR MARK LYALL GRANT, U.K. ambassador to the U.N.: By exercising their veto today, Russia and China are failing in their responsibilities as permanent members of the Security Council to help resolve the crisis in Syria.
GERT ROSENTHAL, Guatemalan ambassador to the U.N.(through translator): In our judgment, that resolution was a best opportunity and perhaps the only opportunity to put an end to the mindless violence that affects the Arab -- the Syrian Arab Republic.
JEFFREY BROWN: The Chinese and Russians argued the resolution would have opened the door to outside intervention, and they complained it said nothing about violence by Syrian rebels.
LI BAODONG, Chinese ambassador to the U.N. (through translator): The draft resolution is seriously problematic, with uneven content that is intended to put pressure on only one party.
JEFFREY BROWN: After the meeting, the Russian ambassador charged, Western nations are using the rebels as a proxy to gain control of a Middle Eastern country.
VITALY CHURKIN, Russian ambassador to the U.N.: A major geopolitical battle is -- is being fought on the fields of Syria, which has nothing to do with the interests of the Syrian people, who are not interested in this kind of -- in being the objects of this kind of geopolitical competition.
JEFFREY BROWN: In Syria today, fighting raged in Damascus for a fifth day. The army used helicopter gunships and tanks to strike at rebels who now hold parts of the capital.
And, as the fighting intensified, thousands of people fled the city for the relative safety of the Lebanese border.
Meanwhile, President Assad was seen for the first time since a bombing yesterday killed his defense minister and two other top officials. State TV showed him swearing-in a new defense minister and wishing him good luck.
There was no word on the actual whereabouts of the president or his family. But in Washington, for a second day, U.S. officials raised concerns that the Syrian leader might be desperate enough to resort to chemical warfare.
Pentagon spokesman George Little:
GEORGE LITTLE, Pentagon press secretary: I can't speculate on Syrian intentions. That being said, we have seen the reckless, depraved and deplorable behavior of a regime that's inflicted terrible violence on its own people. So, we can't rule out the possibility that they might resort to the use of such weapons.
JEFFREY BROWN: Syrian rebels have warned that the Assad government is preparing to use chemical weapons by distributing gas masks to its forces.