The United Nations Security Council voted to extend its peacekeeping mission in Syria on Friday, as fighting between rebel groups and government forces in both the capital Damascus and elsewhere intensified.
"We cannot abandon our collective responsibility to enable a peaceful, democratic, Syrian-led transition that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon told reporters Friday during a visit to Ljubljana, Slovenia.
The vote, which extends the 90-day mission that expired Friday, was unanimous, with even pro-Damascus China and Russia voting in favor. An earlier resolution that included UN sanctions against President Bashar al-Assad's regime was voted down by the two permanent Security Council members on Thursday.
The mission extension will continue for 30 more days, but only if UN observers see a cessation of violence and progress on other ceasefire agreement points such as political dialogue between rebels and the government.
But rather than violence abating in light of the UN vote, fighting in the capital Damascus and Syria's second-largest city of Aleppo intensified Friday and Saturday.
Opposition group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 240 people were killed across the country on Friday, bringing the two-day death toll to 550, its highest point since fighting began in March 2011.
In Damascus, government forces fought back against rebel fighters who took control of large swaths of the city after an attack on the national intelligence center on Thursday killed multiple top security officials. Rebels also captured three border crossings this week.
And in the largely pro-Assad city of Aleppo, fighting broke out in the Salaheddine district, signaling the regime was losing control of even its most staunchly backed areas. Syrian citizens in Aleppo and elsewhere continue to be caught in the fighting and are flowing in even higher numbers into neighboring countries.
According to the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), at least 120,000 Syrians have fled across the border into Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey. In the last 48 hours alone, between 8,500 and 30,000 Syrians fled into parts of Lebanon, UNHCR Commissioner Melissa Fleming said Friday.
Meanwhile in Washington, DC, U.S. lawmakers are becoming increasingly worried about the ability of the Assad regime to weather the storm.
Several congresspeople have urged the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama to take unilateral action against Assad, especially after a newly defected Syrian official said this week the Syrian president could and would use chemical weapons if cornered by rebels.
"The longer this lasts, the more likelihood that these chemical weapons stockpiles that Bashar Assad has gets in the wrong hands, or maybe even used," Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) said on CNN.
Israeli officials have also hinted at possible unilateral action if the conflict is seen to threaten their peace and security in any way. But Russia and China continue to warn against any unilateral foreign intervention into Syria.
"In the opinion of the Russian president, any attempts to act outside the UN Security Council will be ineffective and only undermine the authority of this international organisation," Vladimir Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday.
It is unclear whether the U.S. would take any unilateral steps to quell the violence in Syria, but U.S. Permanent Representative to the UN Susan Rice said after the Friday vote it was "unlikely" fighting in Syria would lessen enough to allow another extension of the UN peacekeeping mission.
by RTT Staff Writer
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