U.N. to consider call for al-Assad to step down


The U.N. Security Council will take up a draft resolution this week that calls on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down and transfer power.

The move follows news that the Arab League suspended a mission to monitor whether al-Assad was abiding by an agreement to end a brutal crackdown against anti-government protesters.

Arab League Secretary-General Nabil el-Araby arrived Monday in New York, where he was scheduled to deliver the monitoring mission’s findings to the Security Council the following day.

Meanwhile, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Syrian authorities have agreed to informal talks in Moscow with opposition representatives aimed at resolving the crisis in the country.

“We are expecting that the opposition will also give their assent in the next days and put the interests of the Syrian people before any other ideas,” the ministry said in a statement.

Syrian state media did not immediately confirm the report. The state-run news agency SANA carried two reports quoting Russian officials rejecting foreign interference. One report cited a Russian official as complaining that “the opposition and those supporting it in the west and Arab world” are refusing to engage in dialogue.

One of the Syrian reports also cited Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov as calling on the U.N. Security Council “to study in detail the report of the Arab League Observer Mission on Syria before discussing the draft resolution presented by the AL to the Council.”

The draft resolution that the Security Council plans to discuss — in addition to calling for al-Assad to step down — supports “full implementation” of the Arab League recommendations on Syria. That would include calling on Syria to form a unity government within two months.

Monday’s developments came amid continued heavy fighting between Syrian forces and the rebel Free Syria Army in suburbs of the capital city of Damascus, where Syrian forces have been battling to take back neighborhoods in Saqba and Maleiha, according to opposition groups.

Forty people were confirmed killed Monday, according to the opposition Local Coordination Committees. The deaths include 26 in Homs, seven in Daraa, five in Damascus and two in Idlib.

Government forces stormed the town of Rankous, and a loud explosion shook the town, according to the opposition group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Two defectors from the military were killed and dozens of civilians wounded, and some houses were destroyed in the bombardment, the group said.

In Idlib, fierce clashes were under way Monday afternoon between military forces and a group of defectors, the Observatory said.

The group also reported violence in Rastan, Daraa and other towns and cities across Syria.

In part of Homs, Syrian forces battled to take back a neighborhood from the rebel army and anti-government protesters, according to an opposition activist who asked that his identity be withheld over a fear of government reprisal.

The dead and wounded littered the streets of the neighborhood, which was under siege, the activist said.

On state media, Syria regularly blames violence in the country on “armed terrorist groups.”

SANA reported that “six army members, including a colonel, were martyred on Monday by the gunfire of an armed terrorist group while they were in the line of duty” in Daraa. When the group attacked a car carrying military personnel, “a clash occurred, resulting in the killing and the injury of a number of the terrorists,” the agency said.

SANA also reported that an “armed terrorist group” blew up a gas pipeline. No casualties were reported.

In addition, SANA said, another group assassinated a doctor at Bissan Hospital in Homs.

CNN cannot independently verify or confirm opposition or government reports of those killed or wounded because access to the country is limited.

Syria has seen a sharp increase in violence in recent weeks, with hundreds killed in clashes between government forces, rebels and anti-government protesters.

That escalation led the Arab League to suspend its mission Saturday.

Ali Erfan, senior adviser to the Arab League’s secretary-general, also said all observers who were outside Damascus would be redeployed to the capital.

Some will leave the country, while others will stay on for now without conducting any missions, he said.

Erfan did not have immediate details on how many monitors would stay in the country.

The Local Coordination Committees called on Syrians to remember all those killed.

“Please join us in observing a moment of silence as we remember the sacrifices of our fallen heroes, whose pure blood has saturated the earth of our beloved country,” the group said in a statement.

Opposition groups reported 64 people killed in clashes with Syrian forces Sunday.

The United Nations estimated last month that more than 5,000 people have died since March, when the government launched a crackdown against demonstrators. Opposition groups estimate a higher death toll, with counts near or exceeding 7,000 people.

The opposition has blamed the deaths on government actions. The Syrian government says terrorists are responsible for the casualties.