* Syrian opposition urges swift actions against Assad
* Russia, China, India, S.Africa dislike proposed rebuke
By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS, June 9 (Reuters) - Britain and France met determined resistance on Thursday from Russia, China and other U.N. Security Council members on a proposal to rebuke Syria for its crackdown on anti-government protests, U.N. envoys said.
Britain, France, Germany and Portugal handed the 15-nation council a draft resolution condemning Damascus on Wednesday. Afterward, Russia made clear it opposed any resolution on Syria, hinting at a possible veto. [ID:nLDE7581FT]
The U.N. delegations of the four European Union countries have not ruled out that Russia could abstain during a vote on the draft resolution in coming days, but are coming to terms with the possibility that Russian and Chinese vetoes may be inevitable, Western diplomats said.
“If Russia vetoes it, China probably will too,” a Western diplomat said on condition of anonymity. “If that happens, we’d want as many yes votes as possible to isolate those who veto the text, to show them that they stand alone.”
Washington is not sponsoring the resolution but backs it.
Rights groups say more than 1,100 civilians have been killed since March in protests against 41 years of rule by the family of President Bashar al-Assad. [ID:nLDE75815O] A Syrian opposition group said it sent an appeal to Security Council members demanding swift action against Assad’s government.
“This critical situation requires immediate and unambiguous action,” the letter said. “The international community has a moral and legal responsibility to respond to situations where crimes against humanity are being perpetrated.”
Like an earlier draft resolution circulated to council members last month, the latest text urges countries not to supply weapons to Damascus but does not provide for an actual arms embargo or other specific punitive measures.
The European draft, which was obtained by Reuters, condemns “systematic” human rights violations by Syrian authorities and says they may amount to crimes against humanity. It also denounces violence against security forces.
Lebanon, which has had a troubled relationship with its neighbor Syria, may vote against the resolution, which envoys said could go to a vote on Friday or early next week.
The Europeans, diplomats say, are focusing their lobbying efforts on Brazil and South Africa, which have so far withheld their support for the draft. Resolutions need nine votes in favor and no vetoes to pass.
The Europeans say they have nine definite ‘yes’ votes.
Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota, who is in New York for a U.N. conference on HIV/AIDS, told reporters a resolution on Syria could inflame tensions in the region.
“Syria is a very pivotal country when you look at Middle East stability,” he said. “The last thing we want to do is to contribute to exacerbating tensions in what could be considered one of the most tense regions in the world.”
The countries reluctant to condemn Syria have said they worry a resolution on Syria could open the door to Western military intervention like in Libya. The latest draft rules that out, saying the crisis can only be resolved “through an inclusive and Syrian-led political process.”
Diplomats said representatives from the 15 council members would meet again on Friday to seek a way out of their impasse.
Envoys said the Europeans were growing frustrated with South Africa, Brazil and India, developing nations with ambitions of eventually becoming permanent members of an expanded Security Council.
“They call themselves democracies and yet they’re hesitant to criticize a country that is killing its own people,” said a Western diplomat. “Are these countries that deserve permanent seats on the Security Council? Ask them that.” (Editing by Peter Cooney)