Syria Crisis: Fighting Rages Ahead Of UN Assembly Vote

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There has been renewed fighting in Syria ahead of a UN General Assembly vote condemning its own Security Council for failing to end the unrest.

Syria Crisis: Fighting Rages Ahead Of UN Assembly Vote

There has been renewed fighting in Syria ahead of a UN General Assembly vote condemning its own Security Council for failing to end the unrest.

The army has been shelling rebel positions in the largest city, Aleppo. There was also bloodshed in Hama and the capital, Damascus.

The aim of the UN resolution is to pressure the Security Council to act.

It follows the resignation of UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan and the failure of his six-point peace plan.

Correspondents say this is a clear recognition that the political process has failed.

'Build-up'

Fighting is continuing in Aleppo, where government forces have been trying to reclaim areas seized by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in the past two weeks.

On Friday, the FSA said it had taken 50% of the city. The claim could not be independently verified.

UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told the Security Council that UN observers in Aleppo were seeing "a considerable build-up of military means, where we have reason to believe that the main battle is about to start".

Activists say 170 people died across the country on Thursday - including dozens in Hama, to the south of Aleppo.

At least 10 people were reported killed when mortars hit a Palestinian refugee camp at Yarmouk, on the southern edge of the capital, Damascus. Both sides blamed one another for the incident.

Activists say more than 20,000 people - mostly unarmed civilians - have died in 17 months of unrest.

Meanwhile three Russian warships are expected to dock in the Syrian port of Tartus in the coming days, according to Russia's Interfax news agency.

Each ship has 120 marines on board and armed personnel carriers. The BBC's Daniel Sandford in Moscow says it is not clear if this is a show of strength, or part of an evacuation plan for Russian nationals.

Text 'toned down'

Russia and China have blocked attempts in the UN Security Council to impose sanctions against Damascus.

The proposed General Assembly resolution requires only a simple majority of the 193-member General Assembly to pass.

But, unlike a Security Council vote, it will not be legally binding.

Drafted by Saudi Arabia, which openly supports the armed rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad's rule, the text condemns the Syrian government's use of "heavy weapons" and its failure to withdraw forces from civilian areas, as demanded by Mr Annan's peace initiative.

In an attempt to maximise votes, diplomats have toned down the wording of the text by dropping an explicit demand for President Assad to stand down, according to AFP.

"The aim is to increase pressure on the Assad government. We want as many people to back this [as possible] which is why some changes have been made," one Arab diplomat told the news agency.

France's UN ambassador, Gerard Araud, said it would show that Russia and China were in a "tiny minority" at the UN General Assembly.

Russia and China have vetoed resolutions on the crisis three times, citing opposition to any action which might be seen as regime change imposed from outside.

Syria Crisis: Fighting Rages Ahead Of UN Assembly Vote

On Thursday Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin said: "Those same countries who were pushing this resolution most actively are the countries who are providing weapons to the armed opposition groups."

Iran on Friday accused "interfering countries" of causing the failure of Kofi Annan's mission.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said those governments "were not satisfied with the efforts made by Annan to halt the shipment of arms into Syria and [to put an end] to terrorist acts".

He did not name any countries, but Tehran has in the past accused Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey of arming Syria's rebels in collusion with the US and Israel.

Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the UK would send more "practical but non-lethal" help to rebel forces in the coming weeks.

Earlier, US media reported that US President Barack Obama had signed a covert order authorising support for Syrian rebels.

Mr Annan's six-point peace plan for Syria was intended to bring an end to the fighting. But it was never fully adhered to by either side and the violence has continued to escalate.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he was in discussion with the Arab League to find a successor to "carry on this crucial peacemaking effort".