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United Nations

Reports of bloodbath in Homs as UN struggles on Syria draft

Opposition activists have reported 260 civilian deaths due to mortar attacks in the Syrian city of Homs. The UN Security Council is preparing to vote once again on Saturday for a resolution to condemn the violence.

Demonstrators hold a vandalized poster of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as they take part in a protest against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad after Friday prayers in Talbiseh.

Syrian activists are calling on Russia to support a resolution

More than 200 civilians were killed in the Syrian city of Homs on Saturday in what could be the deadliest single day in more than ten months of protests, opposition activists said.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it counted 217 dead and several wounded, while the opposition Syrian National Council put the number at "at least 260 civilians."

Foreign journalists are mostly banned from entering the country, making the figures difficult to verify.

As the violence continued, members of the UN Security Council were scheduled to meet on Saturday for a vote on condemning the violent government crackdown in Syria.

"Everyone will seek instructions from their capitals and we hope to be able to vote as soon as possible," said Britain's UN ambassador Mark Lyall Grant.

Russia a wild card

At the UN headquarters in New York, it remained unclear whether Russia would vote in favor of a fresh resolution, or if it would veto or abstain. Moscow had promised to submit suggestions for revising the draft on Friday. However, diplomats said no proposals had been received from the Russian delegation so far. The Russian foreign minister indicated that Moscow still opposed the current draft resolution.

A Syrian rebel stands next to a destroyed government forces tank

The violence has killed more than 5,400 people, the UN estimates

"If they (the West) want yet another scandal on the Security Council for themselves then we cannot stop them" from putting it to a vote, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Russian television. "The draft does not suit us at all and I hope that it is not put to a vote."

Speaking on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, Lavrov also announced that he would visit Damascus with the head of the Russian foreign intelligence service for talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

"On the order of the Russian president [Dmitry Medvedev], myself and Mikhail Fradkov will visit Damascus on February 7 for a meeting with Bashar al-Assad," Lavrov told Russian news agency reporters.

Common language sought

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, meanwhile, said that Security Council members should stop hesitating and take joint action.

"It is necessary for those who are still hesitating to understand that this hesitation cannot be imposed on the people who are suffering in Syria," Westerwelle said. "The international community has to act and find common language."

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said any country would block a resolution on Syria would bear a "heavy responsibility in history," and that the "unbridled violence underlines the urgent need to condemn the authors of this crime and open the way to implementing the Arab League's political plan."

The Arab League has called for President Bashar al-Assad to cede power in favor of a national unity government, which would rule until democratic elections could be held.

In a sign of Syria's growing isolation among the Arab world, Tunisia's government announced it was expelling the Syrian ambassador and withdrawing its recognition of the Assad government, calling his resignation "the only solution" to the violence.

Embassy protests

Police and protesters outside of Syrian embassy Berlin

A group of protesters stormed the Syrian embassy in Berlin on Friday

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov by telephone in an effort to overcome Russian opposition.

China's position on the resolution is also a concern to Western nations who want to see unanimous backing. A draft resolution in the 15-member Security Council, condemning the killing, was blocked in October by veto-holders China and Russia.

Meanwhile protesters gained entry to the Syrian embassies in Cairo and London early on Saturday, after the fatality figures were announced. Police in London said they arrested five men who broke into the building.

In Kuwait, witnesses said demonstrators stormed into the Syrian embassy compound early Saturday, breaking windows, tearing down the Syrian flag and hoisting the colors of the Syrian opposition. An estimated 100,000 Syrians live and work in Kuwait. A rally was also reported at Syria's embassy in Washington.

Earlier in Berlin on Friday, some 20 people forced their way into the Syrian embassy and damaged offices. Germany's Foreign Ministry condemned the incident and was reported to have expressed deep regret to the Syrian ambassador in Berlin.

The UN estimates the number of deaths after almost 11 months of fighting in Syria to be more than 5,400.

rc/slk/msh/gb (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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