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The major powers started talks Thursday on a U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria with Russia declaring a “red line” against sanctions, as U.S. declared that the defection of a Syrian ambassador was a further sign that the Syrian regime was losing his grip on power

As many as 68 people have been killed by the fire of Syrian forces across the country, Al Arabiya reported citing Syrian activists.

Russia and the Western nations on the 15-member council have drafted rival resolutions on Syria.

Britain, the United States, France and Germany have demanded sanctions against President Assad under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter. Russia is firmly against.

Moscow said on Thursday it will not support a draft U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria that would allow the council to authorize sanctions ranging from diplomatic and economic sanctions to military intervention.

“If they decide to do it (put the resolution to a vote on Thursday), knowing it would be unacceptable to us, we will not let it pass,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov told Interfax news agency.

Gatilov added he did not expect there to be a vote as soon as Thursday: “The process of consultations is only just starting and should take some time,” he said.

“As a whole, their resolution is unbalanced and foresees that obligations should only be fulfilled by the Syrian government. Practically nothing is said about the obligations of the opposition,” he said.

He objected that the resolution links an extension of the mandate of the U.N. mission in Syria — which Russia supports — with the introduction of sanctions if the Syrian government does not fulfill certain conditions.

“We will try to move to a constructive text for a possible draft resolution which can reflect the true situation,” Gatilov said.

“Anything can be negotiated but we do not negotiate this. This is a red line,” Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador Igor Pankin told reporters earlier at the Security Council after the first talks among key envoys.

Russia and China have previously twice used their powers as permanent members of the Security Council to veto resolutions which hinted at sanctions.

The ambassadors from all 15 council countries were to meet later Thursday to discuss the two texts.

The Security Council has to pass a resolution by July 20 when the 90-day mandate for the nearly 300 unarmed U.N. monitors in Syria runs out.

A ceasefire brokered by U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan has never taken hold and the monitors suspended their operations a month ago because of the growing danger.

Syrian activists say that more than 17,000 people have died in the 16-month old conflict.

Russia has proposed a resolution which would simply roll over the mandate for the U.N. Supervision Mission in Syria for another three months.

The Western nations want the Security Council to give Assad a 10-day deadline to halt attacks by heavy weapons or face sanctions.

Meanwhile, the White House said on Thursday that the defection of a Syrian ambassador showed that desperation was growing within President Assad’s government and was a further sign that he was losing his grip on power.

“Those around him, both in his inner circle and more broadly in the military and governmental leadership are beginning to assess Assad’s chances of remaining in power … and making the choice that they will abandon him in favor of the Syrian people,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.

Nawaf al-Fares, who was Syria’s ambassador to Iraq, posted a video statement on Facebook that called on the army to “turn your guns on the criminals” of the government. Carney said he could not confirm reports that Fares was now in Qatar.

al Arabiya

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