UNITED NATION/AMMAN: Russia and China vetoed Tuesday a European-drafted U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Syria and hinting that it could face sanctions if it continues its crackdown on protesters.
The resolution received nine votes in favor. Lebanon and three members abstained while Russia and China cast the only votes against the resolution, which was drafted by France with the cooperation of Britain, Germany and Portugal.
“All efforts have been made to put together a unanimous response,” said France’s U.N. ambassador Gerard Araud of efforts to reach a compromise.
“Numerous concessions” had been made to Russia, China and the abstaining countries, he added.
Araud said the veto showed “disdain for the legitimate interests that have been fought for in Syria” since protests against President Bashar Assad erupted in mid-March.
It was the first Russian-China veto since the pair blocked U.N. sanctions against Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe in July 2008.
Meanwhile, a Syrian colonel who has joined the revolt against Assad took refuge in Turkey in a move that may further escalate tensions between Damascus and Ankara.
Colonel Riad al-Asaad told Turkey’s state-run Anatolian news agency that he had been the target of a Syrian military crackdown in the Rastan region near the city of Homs, but had escaped.
“We live in a safe place in Turkey,” he said, thanking the Turkish government for giving him refuge. Anatolian’s report was datelined Hatay in southern Turkey, where 7,000 Syrians have fled to escape Assad’s crackdown on protesters.
“Opponent forces in Syria should get united and close ranks until the regime collapses,” Asaad said.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has predicted the Syrian people will “sooner or later” overthrow Assad, his former friend, said he would unveil plans for sanctions against Syria after he visits Syrian refugees in Hatay in the next few days. Turkey also announced a nine-day military exercise to be held in Hatay, a territory long claimed by Syria, starting Wednesday.
Syrian opposition groups meeting in Istanbul Sunday appealed for international action to stop what they called indiscriminate killings of civilians by the Syrian authorities, but rejected any Libya-style military intervention.
The United States said it was encouraged by the opposition’s statements supporting non-violence, and blamed the mounting death toll on the Syrian authorities.
At least 2,700 civilians have been killed in Syria, by a U.N. count.
Damascus blames foreign-backed armed gangs for the violence, saying that 700 security force members have been killed.
Asaad is the most senior Syrian officer to have defected to the opposition since the country’s popular revolt erupted in March.
After months of peaceful protests, some army deserters and dissidents have taken up arms, prompting military operations against them, especially in areas bordering Turkey and Jordan.
“These are rugged or agricultural regions. The regime cannot control them unless it commits more troops, and then it risks more defections,” said one activist in the northwestern province of Idlib near Turkey.
Asaad, the military defector who leads the “Syrian Free Army,” said last week that 10,000 troops had deserted.
The authorities have denied any army defections, saying its military operations were a response to appeals by residents.
“The real face of what is happening in Syria is that armed terrorist groups are continuing to kill and terrify citizens and kill army and police,” Information Minister Adnan Hammoud said.
Assad retains control of the military, whose mostly Sunni Muslim rank and file are commanded by officers of his minority Alawite sect that also dominates the security apparatus.
Syria has largely closed its doors to independent media, making it hard to verify events, but a trickle of desertions appears to have gathered pace in the last several weeks.