UN backs Syria envoy's ceasefire bid

October 24, 2012 - 6:33 PM

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The Security Council on Wednesday unanimously endorsed a temporary cease-fire proposed by the U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria during this weekend's Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday, agreeing that it could break the cycle of violence and provide space for a political transition to begin in the war-torn nation.

In a press statement approved by all 15 members, the U.N.'s most powerful body, which has been deeply divided over Syria, called on all regional and international actors to support a cease-fire in Syria and to use their influence on President Bashar Assad's government and opposition fighters to end the violence.

The council urged both sides, but especially the Syrian government "as the stronger party, to respond positively to the initiative" and reiterated its call on Assad "to allow immediate, full and unimpeded access of humanitarian personnel to all populations in need of assistance."

"The members of the council ... underscored the need to launch an inclusive Syrian-led political transition leading to a democratic, plural, political system that realizes the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people for democracy, equality and justice, regardless of their affiliation, ethnicities or beliefs," the statement said.

Lakhdar Brahimi told the council, in a videoconference from Cairo, that he expected Syria to announce its support for the cease-fire Thursday, and he said unanimous support from the Security Council is indispensable, according to diplomats who attended the closed-door session.

Brahimi "was positive about the indications from the government, but he anticipated that they would be issuing a statement and obviously he was cautious until that statement has been issued," Britain's U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said after the meeting.

Brahimi also told the council that he had been in touch with various members of the opposition, including the Free Syrian Army, who said they would be prepared to respond if the government took the first step in initiating a cease fire over the Eid period, Lyall Grant said.

The Security Council has been divided over the conflict in Syria with permanent, veto-wielding members Russia and China vetoing three resolutions aimed at pressuring Assad's government to halt the 19-month conflict and threatening sanctions.

Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, whose country is Syria's most important ally, told reporters following Wednesday's meeting that his country had received indications from Syria it would abide by the ceasefire.

Western ambassadors called on the Assad regime to follow through.

"We attach hope to the initiative of Mr. Brahimi but at the same time we remain cautious and realistic in view of the fact that Assad and his government have not honored their pledges in the past," said Germany's U.N. Ambassador Peter Wittig. "The onus is on the Syrian government to deliver."

U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice tweeted that the United States strongly supports Brahimi's cease-fire call and stressed that the "government must make the first move."

But she said "many are duly skeptical about prospects for even a temporary cease-fire given Assad's record of broken promises."

Wittig said Brahimi painted a dramatic picture of the situation inside Syria warning that another failure would lead to a worsening of the conflict and spillover to other countries.

"We share his analysis that the Syrian people don't have a safe place to go anymore — and he gave us some very disconcerting figures: 67 percent of the hospitals for instance are damaged," Wittig said. "That's all very dire and grim."

Rice tweeted that "regime atrocities — aerial bombardments, cluster bombs, shelling — are mounting in Syria and threatening the security of the entire region."

Brahimi's cease-fire bid follows a failed six-point peace plan by former Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who stepped down as Syria envoy in August, frustrated by a lack of progress and escalating violence.

Syrian activists said Wednesday that the death toll in the conflict is now more than 35,000.

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Associated Press Writer Edith M. Lederer contributed to this report from the United Nations