EU powers push U.N. council to condemn Syria: envoys

UNITED NATIONS Mon Apr 25, 2011 1:08pm EDT

A man throws a rock at a passing tank in a location given as Deraa on April 25, 2011, in this still image from an amateur video. REUTERS/Social Media Website via Reuters TV

A man throws a rock at a passing tank in a location given as Deraa on April 25, 2011, in this still image from an amateur video.

Credit: Reuters/Social Media Website via Reuters TV

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Britain, France, Germany and Portugal are asking the U.N. Security Council to condemn Syria's violent crackdown against protesters and urge restraint by the government, council diplomats said on Monday.

But it was unclear whether Russia and China would support the idea. The two permanent veto-wielding council members have become increasingly critical of the U.N.-backed intervention to protect civilians in Libya, which U.N. diplomats say Moscow and Beijing worry aims at ousting Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

"We would like council members to condemn the violence in Syria and to urge restraint," a diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

At least 18 people were killed on Monday when Syrian soldiers and tanks stormed the southern city of Deraa, prominent activist Ammar Qurabi said.

Western powers which took up arms against Gaddafi's forces, citing the United Nations principle of the responsibility to protect civilians, have confined themselves so far to verbal condemnations of the killing of hundreds of people in Syria.

Another U.N. diplomat said the four European members of the council have circulated a draft statement to the other 11 member states that also supports U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's call over the weekend for an independent investigation into the killings of demonstrators.

The Europeans hope a condemnation by the Security Council could increase the pressure on Syria to halt its crackdown on anti-government demonstrators, diplomats said.

The United States on Monday said it was considering "targeted sanctions" against the government of President Bashar al-Assad in response to its violent crackdown on protesters.

There was no move to discuss the possibility of U.N. sanctions against Syria at the moment, one diplomat said.

Russia and China have indicated they would be loath to have the council take up another internal conflict that they consider to be a domestic issue. The council has been unable to agree to a statement on unrest in another Arab state, Yemen.

The European draft statement on Syria notes that the situation is significant for the outlook for peace and security across the Middle East, a diplomat said. Reference to an international dimension to the violence could make it more difficult for Russia and China to refuse to discuss Syria.

Council discussion of Syria could also be awkward for Beirut. Lebanon, the sole Arab council member, has had a troubled relationship with its neighbor and Syrian influence remains strong there.

(Editing by Eric Beech)