U.N. condemns Syria crackdown as its isolation grows

UNITED NATIONS Mon Dec 19, 2011 5:23pm EST

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UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. General Assembly on Monday condemned Syria for its nine-month crackdown on pro-democracy protesters and human rights abuses, in a vote that highlighted Damascus' growing isolation at the world body.

The 193-nation assembly's vote came a month after the body's human rights committee approved a draft resolution with strong Western and Arab backing.

In Monday's vote on the same resolution, drafted by Britain, France and Germany, 133 countries voted in favor, 11 against and 43 abstained. The vote was held shortly after Syria agreed to sign an Arab League deal that would allow monitors into the country to observe the situation there.

U.N. diplomats said Monday's result showed Syria is becoming more and more isolated internationally. There were 11 more votes in favor in the assembly than in last month's committee vote, when 122 voted 'yes', 13 'no' and 41 abstained.

Russia and China, which vetoed a European-drafted U.N. Security Council resolution in October that would have condemned Syria and threatened possible future sanctions, abstained. Diplomats said that could indicate a toughening of their positions against Damascus.

The non-binding General Assembly resolution said the committee "strongly condemns the continued grave and systematic human rights violations by the Syrian authorities, such as arbitrary executions, excessive use of force and the persecution and killing of protesters and human rights defenders."

Damascus's U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari condemned the resolution as "a political, media and diplomatic war which they're waging against my country, Syria, to create a conducive environment" for its disintegration.

He blamed Israel, the United States and some European countries for the campaign against Syria.

Separately, British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant told reporters that negotiations would begin on Monday on a beefed-up Russian draft resolution on Syria that Western powers said last week they hoped to negotiate on and toughen up.

He said the Syria decision to sign the Arab League plan would not halt the efforts of Britain, France, Germany and their allies to push for the first Security Council resolution on the Syrian crackdown since it began in March.

"We haven't got the full conditions of their agreement (with the Arab League), what has been agreed, and of course it's all about implementation, not that they signed," he told reporters.

The council has released just one formal statement, split between Western countries harshly critical of Syria on the one hand, and Russia, China and nonaligned countries on the other that have refused to put the main blame on Damascus for the violence.

Western diplomats believe a firm resolution backed by Syria's long-standing ally Russia could make a real difference to a crisis that U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay said last week had so far led to more than 5,000 civilian deaths.

(Editing by Christopher Wilson)

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