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Western nations prepare draft Security Council sanctions on Syrian leadership

The United States and key European powers distributed a draft Security Council resolution on Tuesday calling for the imposition of sweeping financial, travel, and arms sanctions against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, 22 of his top security advisors and financial backers, and four institutions.

The confidential draft, which was obtained by Turtle Bay, "strongly condemns the continued grave and systematic human rights violations by the Syrian authorities" and demands an "immediate end" to months of violence that have left more than 2,200 civilians dead. It also demands that those responsible for political repression "be held accountable."

The draft met strong opposition from Russia, whose U.N. envoy, Vitaly I. Churkin, refused to enter negotiations with the council's Western powers over the draft, according to a council diplomat. The Russian government, Syria's closest ally on the 15-nation council, is a major supplier of arms to Damascus. As Russia exercises veto power on the council, its opposition makes it highly unlikely that the draft will be able to pass in its current form.

The sanctions target individuals "responsible for or complicit in ordering, controlling or otherwise directing, violent repression against the civilian population." They would also target those responsible for "providing financial or logistical support" to those responsible for the military crackdown.

The decision to introduce the resolution came several hours after the U.N. Human Rights Council voted in Geneva to adopt a resolution condemning Syria's conduct during the five-month-long crackdown on protesters; it also voted to establish a commission of inquiry to probe alleged atrocities and hold perpetrators accountable.

Syria has come under mounting international pressure for its conduct. The U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a scathing account of alleged government abuses that "may" amount to crimes against humanity. The U.N.'s emergency relief coordinator, Valerie Amos, said today that she is "shocked" by reports that protesters in the city of Homs were killed this week, following a visit by a U.N. humanitarian assessment team. The U.N. team was whisked away from the town earlier this week by Syrian security forces after they gathered to protest Syrian government abuses.

The Western draft Security Council resolution would also require the Syrian government to provide "expeditious and unhindered access" in the country for international aid workers. It calls for an "inclusive Syrian led political process conducted in an environment free from fear and intimidation." The resolution would also call for the establishment of a sanctions panel to monitor compliance with the measures.

The resolution includes a list of top Syrian officials and financial backers, including the president's brother, Maher al-Assad; Ali Mamlouk, head of the Syrian General Intelligence Directorate; and Asif Shawkat, the commander of the Syrian army.

The resolution includes no provision authorizing the International Criminal Court to prosecute Assad or members of his inner circle for alleged crimes. The U.N.'s high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, had requested the council do so. But one council diplomat said they felt it would be better to hold back that action in order to ease the way for a possible "exit strategy" for Assad.

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