U.N. General Assembly to ask Syria’s Assad to step down

UNITED NATIONS — Arab countries pushed ahead Wednesday with a symbolic U.N. General Assembly resolution that tells Syrian President Bashar Assad to resign and turn over power to a transitional government. It also demands that the Syrian army stop its shelling and helicopter attacks and withdraw to its barracks. A vote is set for Friday morning.

The draft resolution circulated up through Wednesday takes a swipe at Russia and China by “deploring the Security Council failure” to act. Moscow and Beijing have used their veto in the smaller, more powerful Council three times to kill resolutions that could have opened the door to sanctions on Syria.

While the 193-member General Assembly has no legal mechanism for enforcing a resolution, an overwhelming vote can carry moral and symbolic power. Voting is by simple majority, and there is no veto.

The U.N. reported a significant escalation in Syria’s civil war Wednesday, with the military using warplanes to fire on opposition fighters in the 12-day battle for Aleppo.

The General Assembly draft resolution, written by Saudi Arabia and lobbied for by Egypt and Bahrain, is an attempt to get around the stalemate in the Security Council.

“What’s important here is that a meeting of the General Assembly on this topic would be an expression of the frustration felt in the international community at large about what’s happening in Syria and the inability of the international community, so far, to be able to help bring an end to the violence that everybody wishes to see,” said Martin Nesirky, spokesman for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

France, which took over the Security Council presidency for the month of August on Wednesday, has called for a foreign minister-level meeting of the Security Council to address the Syria crisis. It was not clear what that could accomplish.

U.N. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to be quoted, said the Arab countries might be ready to weaken some provisions of the draft resolution to guarantee a larger majority vote. The last General Assembly resolution on Syria had 137 votes in favor.

A Council diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said the Arab sponsors of the resolution had decided to make some “tweaks” in the text after receiving reaction from other delegations Wednesday, and were working to build the majority.

The resolution condemns the increasing Syrian military reliance on heavy weapons, including tanks and helicopters, and the “failure to withdraw its troops and heavy weapons to their barracks” in line with a set of proposals by U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, the former U.N. secretary-general who has been trying to mediate the crisis.

The resolution backs Annan’s demand that “the first step in the cessation of violence has to be made by the Syrian authorities.”

Reacting to Syria’s recent confirmation that it has chemical weapons and its announcement that it would use them on any invaders, the General Assembly “demands that the Syrian authorities refrain from using, or transferring to non-State actors, any chemical and biological weapons, or any related material.”

A vote had been set for Thursday morning but was postponed until Friday morning, the General Assembly spokeswoman’s office announced late Wednesday.

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