Russia and China vetoed a Western-backed U.N. Security Council resolution on Thursday that threatened Syrian authorities with sanctions if they did not stop using heavy weapons against an uprising and withdraw troops from towns and cities.
It was the third time that Russia, a key ally of the Syrian government, and China have used their veto power to block U.N. Security Council resolutions designed to put pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and halt the violence in the 16-month conflict that has killed thousands of people.
The vetoed resolution, which would have extended a U.N. observer mission in Syria for 45 days, received 11 votes in favour, while South Africa and Pakistan abstained.
Britain's U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant told the council he was "appalled" by Russia and China's vetoes.
"The effect of their actions is to protect a brutal regime. They have chosen to put their national interests ahead of the lives of millions of Syrians," he said.
His French counterpart, Gerard Araud, said proponents of strong U.N. action on Syria would not be dissuaded.
"We simply couldn't be accomplices of a strategy which brought together false diplomatic action and paralysis," Araud told the council. "This double veto will not stop us. We will continue to assist a Syrian opposition on its path to democratic transition in Syria."
The 15-member council still has time to negotiate another resolution on the fate of the unarmed mission before its initial 90-day mandate expires at midnight Friday (0400 GMT Saturday).
Britain, France, Germany and the United States proposed in the vetoed resolution that international envoy Kofi Annan's six-point peace plan be placed under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which allows the council to authorize actions ranging from diplomatic and economic sanctions to military intervention.
Western council members have said they are talking about a threat of sanctions on Syria, not military intervention. Their vetoed resolution had contained a specific threat of sanctions if Syrian authorities did not stop using heavy weapons and withdraw troops from towns and cities within 10 days.
But Russia made clear days before the vote that it would block any resolution on Syria under Chapter 7, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov describing the threat of sanctions against Syria as "blackmail."
Russia has also put forward a resolution to extend the U.N. mission for 90 days, but it does not contain a threat of sanctions. The Security Council initially approved the deployment of the U.N. observer mission, known as UNSMIS, to monitor a failed April 12 ceasefire under Annan's peace plan.
If the mission is renewed, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon has recommended shifting the emphasis of the work of UNSMIS from the 300 unarmed military observers to civilian staff focusing on a political solution and issues including human rights.
UNSMIS suspended most of its monitoring activity on June 16 due to increased risk from rising violence.
20,000 Syrians cross into Lebanon
About 20,000 Syrians have travelled across the main border crossing into Lebanon over the past 24 hours, a Lebanese security source working at the border said, after heavy fighting tore through several districts of Damascus.
The number of Syrians who travel through the official Masnaa border crossing usually hovers around 5,000 per day, the source said.