UN deadlock threatens key Syria vote as Assad fights back rebels

Diplomatic efforts face hurdle of Russian veto as fighting intensifies in Damascus suburbs

Cairo

Syrian forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad were mounting a desperate counter-offensive last night as they battled army defectors who had gained control of suburbs around Damascus, just five miles from the presidential palace.

With Syria's 10-month uprising inching closer to the seat of Baathist rule, President Assad's generals deployed tanks and artillery to claw back control of villages east of the capital.

The fighting came amid a fresh diplomatic attempt to stem the bloodshed, with the British and French foreign secretaries heading to the UN in New York to try to press a new resolution. Moscow, meanwhile, offered to host talks between the regime and the rebels, although the main opposition body rejected the proposal.

In Damascus, former soldiers now fighting with the Free Syrian Army were reportedly driven into retreat under heavy gunfire, with rebels saying at least 15 people had been killed as they pulled back from Saqba and Kfar Batna. Two other suburbs, Ein Tarma and Hamouriyeh, were also reported to have been wrested back from the opposition forces. "Street fighting has been raging since dawn," one rebel soldier told the Reuters news agency. "The sound of gunfire is everywhere."

There were also reports of heavy shelling in the central city of Homs, as speculation grew that Mr Assad is frantically trying to bolster his position prior to talks at the UN beginning today.

William Hague was due to arrive in New York with his French counterpart to press the UN Security Council to pursue a peace plan sponsored by the Arab League, whose monitoring mission has been put on ice as the violence escalates. The plan calls for Mr Assad to hand power to a deputy and create a unity government, but Damascus – which blames the unrest on terrorists and "armed groups" – has rejected the move.

Britain and France also have to contend with the opposition of veto-wielding Russia. The Kremlin, wary of rubber-stamping a "Libya solution" which could lead to Western intervention, has said it will block any proposal which could lead to military action. Russia's foreign minister said yesterday that the Syrian government had agreed to Kremlin-brokered negotiations, but opposition officials said there would be no dialogue until Mr Assad agreed to step down.

Moscow's stance was yesterday condemned by David Cameron. A spokeswoman for the Prime Minister said: "Russia can no longer explain blocking the UN and providing cover for the regime's brutal repression."

The UN says at least 5,000 civilians have been killed over the past 10 months. Human rights groups said at least 14 people were killed yesterday in Homs. The Local Co-Ordination Committees, a group of activists which works to publicise the crisis, also claimed a family of six – four children and their parents – had been found dead in a district of the city. All had been killed by gunfire, the group claimed.

According to Sana, Syria's state news agency, six soldiers were killed when a gas pipeline was blown up near Deraa.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Voices
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Resourcer

£18000 - £22000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Recruitment Resour...

Account Manager (Junior)

Negotiable: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Account Manager (Junior) Account ...

Javascript Developer

£40000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a...

Solar Business Development Manager – M&A

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried