UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Russia on Thursday blocked adoption of a draft U.N. statement condemning a deadly Syrian mortar attack on a Turkish town and proposed a weaker text calling for “restraint” on the border, without referring to breaches of international law.
Western diplomats complained that Russia’s proposed Security Council statement, if accepted by the 15-members, would weaken the message to an unacceptable degree. Negotiations on the non-binding statement were continuing, they said.
U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was “alarmed by escalating tensions along the Syrian-Turkish border” and worried that the risk of a wider regional conflict was growing.
Syria’s U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja‘afari said Damascus had urged the Security Council to include in any statement on the border attacks a reaction to “suicide terrorist attacks that struck the city of Aleppo” on Wednesday.
Ban described the bombings in the northern Syrian city, which killed 48 people, as “atrocious terrorist bombings,” while Ja‘afari accused some Security Council members of blocking for the third time a condemnation of “terrorist” attacks in Syria.
Russia’s proposed statement on the border attacks, obtained by Reuters, does not mention Aleppo, but said: “The Security Council called on the parties to exercise restraint and avoid military clashes which could lead to a further escalation of the situation in the border area between Syria and Turkey.”
If adopted, the statement would call on the two states to “reduce tensions and forge a path toward a peaceful resolution of the Syrian crisis.”
The Syrian mortar attack on Wednesday killed five Turkish civilians. Turkey responded by striking targets in Syria.
About 30,000 people have been killed across Syria in an 18-month-long conflict between forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and rebels seeking to oust him, opposition activists say. The civil war is seeing growing sectarian overtones which threaten to draw in regional Sunni Muslim and Shi‘ite powers.
“The Syrian government is not seeking any escalation (of the conflict) with any of its neighbors, including Turkey,” Ja‘afari told reporters. “We reiterate our call to the Turkish government to help us in controlling the border, preventing armed groups from infiltrating through these borders.”
Syria has accused the United States, France, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey of supporting “terrorism” by funneling arms, money and foreign fighters to rebels. Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have denied aiding the rebels. The United States and France say they are providing “non-lethal” support, not weapons.
The Russian draft Security Council statement keeps some of the language in the original text proposed by Azerbaijan, and urges the Syrian government to investigate the border attack.
The original draft, circulated to the council on Wednesday, condemned “in the strongest terms” the Syrian army’s shelling of a town in Turkey and demanded an end to violations of Turkish territory. Both drafts say the border tensions were an “alarming” spillover of the conflict outside Syria.
The Russians proposed removing the following sentence, which diplomats said was crucial: “Such violations of international law constitute a serious threat to international peace and security.”
U.N. envoys say the aim of the sentence is to signal that the Security Council, which is supposed to guard international peace and security, should remain involved in the matter.
Another problem with the Russian proposal, Western diplomats said, is that it attempts to balance the Syrian attack with the Turkish response. It shifts the blame from the Syrian army, they said, by suggesting an investigation was needed on whether the Syrian army was behind the attack.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice told reporters the council needed to “clearly and unequivocally” condemn the attack and urge an end to such action.
Rice said the attack on Turkey was “very destabilizing and must be stopped.” She added that a number of council members found the Russian proposal unacceptable. Security Council statements must be agreed to unanimously.
The decision to try to issue a council statement was a response to a request from Turkey, which asked council members on Wednesday to take the “necessary action” to stop Syrian aggression and ensure that the government there respect Turkish territorial integrity.
Syria also wrote to the council offering condolences for the deaths of Turkish civilians and calling for restraint and rationality.
It is unlikely the Security Council will do more than issue a statement for the time being, although getting agreement on a text may not be easy. The council has been deadlocked on Syria’s conflict for more than a year.
Russia, a staunch ally of Syria, and China have vetoed three resolutions condemning Assad’s government. They also reject the idea of sanctioning those in power in Syria who are responsible for the military assault against the opposition.
Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols in New York and Mariam Karouny in Beirut; Editing by Vicki Allen, Claudia Parsons and David Brunnstrom