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The U.N. Security Council could vote as soon as Tuesday on a resolution calling on Syria to immediately halt its violent crackdown on opponents who have staged protests against the continued rule of Bashar al-Assad.

Meanwhile, a group of Syrian Army deserters who have organized under the banner of the “Free Syria Army” are asking the international community to support a “no fly” zone and a protected area for dissidents and deserters that would be beyond the reach of Syrian government aircraft and artillery, said Manhal al-Adday, a spokesman for the group.

At the United Nations, European nations backing the stalled resolution have again dialed back its wording, removing references to potential sanctions in favor of “targeted measures,” softer diplomatic language that sponsors hope will limit opposition from Russia and China. Russia, particularly, has expressed concerns about increased involvement in Syrian affairs.

A previous version directly referenced the council’s intention to implement sanctions if the Syrian government did not respond to calls to end the campaign within 15 days.

Under the current draft, the Security Council would not be obliged to take action against Syria even if it continues its crackdown unabated.

Speaking to the U.N. General Assembly last week, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said that demands for sanctions “jeopardize the interests and the basic daily subsistence needs of the Syrian people,” and could not “be reconciled with pronouncements about concern for the interests, security and rights of the Syrian people.”

The European countries sponsoring the resolution — Portugal, Germany, France and the United Kingdom — are not diluting the resolution to appease the al Assad regime, but rather out of practical political reality. Russia and China can veto Security Council resolutions.

Last week, Portuguese Ambassador Jose Filipe Moraes Cabral said European countries “must be realistic” about the prospects for a resolution against Syria in the face of Russian opposition.

While diplomats debate the issue, the struggle between government forces and opponents continues.

The Free Syria Army recently claimed responsibility for operations in Homs and Deir Azzor to protect the civilian population and harass Army units and prevent them from operating effectively, according to al-Adday.

The army was formed in August by Col. Riad al-Assa’ad and its numbers have grown quickly in recent weeks, al-Adday said. He declined to disclose the group’s exact numbers, but said it included thousands of defectors.

CNN is unable to independently verify the claims.

The group said it was involved in fighting in Rastan against security forces, but al-Adday said the group withdrew because continued fighting would have devastated the town.

He described Rastan as a ghost city, with security forces conducting arbitrary detentions. An activist in Syria confirmed the report, saying security forces were carrying out mass detentions and interrogations in an effort to track down military defectors.

CNN

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